A shark-fishing ban could be in force by early next year, environmental watchdogs said this week in response to public concerns about a dead nurse shark dumped on the coastline close to George Town dive shops.
The nurse shark, photographed by dive instructor Kyle Pratt of Wall to Wall Diving, had a hook and line in its mouth and appeared to have been caught off shore before being dumped.
Shark fishing is legal in the Cayman Islands, and some companies offer nighttime catch-and-release fishing charters.
Other fishermen are understood to supply sharks for shark hash and roti, and while there has been some evidence of finning, this practice is believed to be extremely rare in Cayman.
National Conservation Law
Tim Austin, deputy director of the Department of Environment, said a ban on all types of shark fishing would be in place early next year once the full National Conservation Law comes into force.
He said sharks, along with other marine species, including stingrays and turtles, are on a schedule of species that receive automatic protection under the new law.
Mr. Pratt said he alerted the Department of Environment after seeing the small shark dead in the shallows near the Lobster Pot last week. He posted his photo on Facebook, sparking outrage from fellow divers.
“I think what annoyed people the most was that it had a hook and line in its mouth,” he said. “Why not just cut the line and put it back instead of going to the trouble of bringing it back and then just leaving it on the beach to die?”
He said many tourists come to Cayman for the chance to dive with sharks and he believes that sharks are worth more to the island alive.
Mr. Austin said the reason sharks are included on the schedule of protected species is because many are endangered globally. He said Cayman is no exception, with recent research showing shark numbers are much lower than expected in the islands’ territorial waters.
He said this is a concern since sharks and other top predators play a critical role in creating a healthy marine ecosystem by maintaining an important balance in fish populations farther down the food chain.
He added, “If shark populations are to recover, then local protection and education is necessary.”
Mr. Austin said targeted catch and release would also be banned, although fishermen who accidentally catch a shark and do everything they can to ensure its safe release would not be prosecuted.
Charter fisherman Charles Ebanks said he stopped offering shark fishing earlier this year.
“I used to do it when customers asked for it, but I stopped because people were kicking up against it. We always did catch and release, but we don’t anymore. I don’t know that many people that do it, I don’t think the ban will be a big issue,” he said.
Captain Jon Arch of Slackem Charters said he thought there was already a ban on shark fishing due to the prohibition in current legislation on chumming the water to attract sharks.
He said he had never actively fished for sharks and released any that were caught accidentally.
“We don’t offer shark fishing, so it is certainly not going to affect me. There are definitely sharks that are killed here. I don’t know if the law will make any difference with that.”
He said he knew of some anglers who sometimes used shark for bait or just killed them because they were a nuisance when they were fishing.