Image copyright CEG
Fishing town of Basking Shark, Bermuda, felt the international wrath of ocean watchers this week when the Bermuda newspaper ran a front page story about it. “Please don’t feed the whale sharks,” it said in broken English. “We are scared for our children,” it added. CEG was the name of the town where reef-dwelling and fishing molluscs are mostly found. Since records began it has been a shark-fishing port. Its shops do a good trade selling live sharks, waders and other equipment to those intending to take them out to sea. “It’s hard living here,” the fished-up editor of the local paper, Solomon Ford, told me in his office in the heart of the town. “I don’t see it as an attack on the shark, just an attempt to keep them from coming into our stores and people from eating them,” he said. The man in the town described these sharks as fish or cockroaches and said the world should remember his town’s treatment of them. The people of the tiny town are good fishermen and two-out-of-three get by getting by on rewards rather than money. The bait fishermen are paid for bringing in sharks, but at a flat salary for the catch – the bait! – they have no incentive to chase more. ‘Big difference’ The local council introduced the ban, saying they thought eating the small animals was putting them at risk. For me, it does make a big difference, but it’s a small difference
Supply gillnet boat captain At his timber shop in town, the shopkeeper, Edith Atkinson, pointed to a black and white photograph of a ‘nubber shark’. It is from her home and has a tag about its back. The reason why there are tags on these large predators is because its fin is so small – and its size so varied – the tags can tell them how old, and which way they moved. One of the tags on this shark said it had been caught at CEG two years ago. But it is the shark down the road that Edith Atkinson looked at. It was captured there last September and she wanted to know how long it had been. She was amazed when the pier-master sent her a short email from the beach showing it had been caught for almost a year. “So was I,” she said. “One was already dead.” The state-funded Yellow Sea Fisheries Research Institute in Hong Kong has been leading the international campaign to get countries to ban the taking of the animals for human consumption. At its base in Changchun, north-east China, it has been intensively checking shark fins every month for a decade or more. Professor Zhang Yao says it is something they are always working on. He and his colleague, Xiang Guanyun, discovered the shark population of Cape Town, in South Africa, was in decline and possibly never had been. But they have found there has been a 300% increase in sharks caught by fishermen off the South China coast since 2010. Mr Zhang says: “If we keep on doing the same, in five years we won’t find any. A lot of people believe they are gods. That is why they have to have food and they need to eat them, even though they’re not real food at all.” He also argues that because they are so easy to catch in large numbers, there is little reason for those who feed them to know they are doing so. As he points out, there is a “big difference” between the numbers of the sharks caught off the coast of CEG, and those of the ones in Hong Kong. Local experts are also troubled by the lack of any explanation for the population explosion in shark-fishing ports – and see this latest development as possibly an indication that the global campaign to save these animals is working.
Image copyright CEG Image caption Professor Zhang Yao says he and his colleague, Xiang Guanyun, discovered the shark population of Cape Town, in South Africa, was in decline The supply gillnet boat captain from CEG tells me in the slow, narrow streets of his bustling town, it is easy to see where this type of sea tourism gets people hooked. “There are so many more of these sharks than we ever imagined,” he said. “They have problems, like asthma and stomach problems, and people are catching them in boxes and putting them in the market.” He thinks the trend is coming to an end but he adds: “For me, it does make a big difference, but it’s a small difference.” If sharks make a big difference for you, it