The Bahamas has put shark conservation at the top of its priority list by banning commercial shark fishing in all of its waters. More than 40 shark species have been awarded protection in nearly 250,000 square miles of water, which will effectively be turned into a shark sanctuary.
The Bahamas is the latest in a string of countries to ban shark fishing, following similar decisions by Honduras, the Maldives and Palau. The government also increased shark-fishing fines from $3,000 to $5,000.
Shark trade threat
Sharks are at risk due to demand for their fins in Chinese cuisine – environmentalists say some 73 million are killed each year to meet the demand.
The Bahamas banned long-line fishing in 1993, which limited shark fishing, but did not ban it outright. When a local seafood company announced last year that it planned to export shark meat and fins to Hong Kong, activists called for a new law to be introduced.
Neil McKinney, president of the Bahamas National Trust, which manages the country’s resources, said sharks played an extremely important role in balancing the ecosystem.
“They desperately need protection if we’re not going to drive them to extinction.”
With studies showing that some ‘million-dollar sharks’ may be worth as much as $1.9 million in tourist revenue over the course of their lifetime, the decision to ban shark fishing has perhaps come as little surprise.
The Bahamas touts itself as the shark-diving capital of the world, and shark-diving earns it around $80 million a year in revenue. The US-based Pew Environment Group said each reef shark brought some $250,000 to the archipelago’s economy.
Deputy Prime Minister Brent Symonette said he did not think the ban would affect relations with China, which has increased trade with the Bahamas in recent years.
“This is in keeping with the government’s commitment to pursue conservation policies and strategies in order to safeguard the marine and terrestrial environment.”
Enforcing this ban will be the next challenge for the government. Illegal shark catches are unfortunately still common, and with demand for shark fins still high, countries instituting bans on commercial fishing will have to put in increased effort to ensure the bans are followed.
Alex Royan, ARKive Scientific Text Author