In 2011, the world’s first fishery for sharks was certified as sustainable by the Marine Stewardship Council*. The British Columbia spiny dogfish fishery made major news in fisheries management and ocean conservation world, where the possible existence of sustainable shark fisheries has been debated intensely. A few years later, the fishery voluntarily withdrew their certification, and never publicly said why.
I wanted to know what happened with this scientific mystery. So, with the help of Chuck Bangley and Catherine Macdonald and funding support from the Liber Ero Postdoctoral Fellowship program, I organized a research expedition to find out. The results of our expedition can be found in our new paper (LINK,) (OPEN ACCESS AUTHOR COPY) but in this blog post, I’d like to explain what we did, what we found, and why we think it’s important.
I am in Saba in the Dutch Caribbean with the Dutch
Elasmobranch Society, St. Maarten Nature Foundation, and the Saba Conservation
Foundation serving as a research assistant to an international team of shark
scientists participating in the Save Our Sharks Expedition 2019. Today was our first day out on the water and
our objective was to catch, measure, and tag small sharks on the Saba Bank.
We caught three Caribbean reef sharks and a silky shark – the first time I’ve ever seen a silky shark (check that one off the list). Each shark was worked up by the scientists, with data collected to serve their respective research areas. When each shark was brought to the boat, the first observation was for sex, which we determined from the presence or absence of claspers. And then measurements were taken for total length, fork length, caudal length, and girth. We also took a fin clip, a muscle sample, and a blood sample. Each shark was handled for only a few minutes, and then released back into the water. Every shark today quickly swam away.
Our island hosts Ayumi and Walter from the Saba Conservation Foundation were eseential in making today a success. Walter drove the boat all day and Ayumi served as our expert fisher, helping us with the gear to target the species we were after.
We also trolled for bonito to and from the Saba Bank. We didn’t catch any, but I handlined this barracuda, and we also caught a beautiful green mahi mahi.
Stay tuned for a few more blogs where I introduce some of the researchers and conservation practitioners participating in the expedition. You can also follow the expedition on social media using the hashtag #SabaShark2019, or by following the Save Our Sharks social media accounts on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.