Fishermen have been warned that catching sharks is now illegal in the Cayman Islands under the new National Conservation Law.
A picture of a juvenile nurse shark among a cooler of fish at West Bay Dock was posted to the Department of Environment’s website on Tuesday afternoon by a concerned angler.
The department sent an enforcement officer to the scene but said there was no sign of any activity by the time the officer arrived.
Chief Enforcement Officer Mark Orr urged anyone who witnesses violations of the law to call him on 916-4271 or call 911 rather than using Facebook.
He said the Department of Environment relies on public tips and urged people to help them enforce the law.
He said anyone caught taking protected animals illegally is liable to prosecution and could face a fine, the confiscation of their boat or jail time.
He acknowledged that legislation protecting sharks is new in Cayman, and said the department is trying to educate and warn people first before moving to more draconian measures.
“We take it on a case-by-case basis. If it was something that was happening repeatedly, we would take action,” he said. “We need to focus on educating people and making sure they know it is now illegal.
“We have to let people know sharks are now protected in Cayman’s waters. Even if they are caught accidentally, they have to be released.”
Ellen Cuylaerts, an underwater photographer and advocate for protection of sharks in Cayman’s waters and beyond, said education is key.
“I don’t think everybody is aware that killing sharks is illegal in Cayman,” she said.
“The conch and lobster season information is public knowledge these days; shark protection should be too.”
She urged anyone who sees sharks being landed by fishermen to speak up.
In the long term, she said, greater education on the value of sharks to the world’s oceans and Cayman’s marine ecosystem would help prevent people from catching them.
“We need to create public awareness and educate the younger generation about the need for sharks in our ocean,” she said. “Getting more ocean education in the [school curriculum] would be the most effective way.”
Sharks are included on a list of protected species under the National Conservation Law.