Friday, December 04, 2015

Coastal Fishing for Sharks in Fiji - Paper!


So here are the facts.
Whilst others continue to bullshit the public with tall tales of them spearheading the fight against finning in the SoPac, or whatever, we've decided to finally shed a light on what really happens in Fiji away from the well-documented shenanigans (and here!) by the Tuna long liners.

In essence, we've embarked into a two-month road trip throughout the country - and lemme tell 'ya, it has been epic!
Under Juerg's leadership, we took Swiss masters student Kerstin Glaus to every single coastal village we could reach, see the paper, where she conducted interviews with the local fishermen; and then, we visited some of the principal fish markets in order to verify and collect further evidence.

The results were equally impressive and disturbing.
Contrary to common lore whereby Fijians don't fish for Sharks, we found that local small- and medium-scale subsistence and commercial Shark fishing was very much alive and even on the rise following the defeat of the Shark Sanctuary Campaign but also very much because as Sea Cucumber stocks were being wiped out, the bêche-de-mer traders were increasingly asking for Shark fins as a commercial substitute, and because Sharks were increasingly being consumed as stocks of other more prized Fishes were dwindling.

A first outcome was Kerstin's stellar masters thesis, see at top.
Much more comprehensive than the present paper -and we shall come back to that-, it was the basis of a series of presentations to Fiji's Department of Fisheries that having so far lacked any relevant data, had been largely unaware of the extent of the problem and consequently failed to enact any management measures. Thankfully, this is now changing, also owing to the implementation of the latest protection measures under CITES.

And now this knowledge is finally open source.
But whilst I loved the masters thesis, I'm somewhat underwhelmed by the present paper.

And this is why.

There is bycatch and bycatch.
If a coastal fisherman goes out to net himself some Mullet and having left the net to soak overnight, comes back to find a dead Blacktip Reefie among his catch, then the Shark is genuine bycatch = unplanned, unintended and unwanted.
But what about this.
If a spear fisherman sets out to catch himself a Parrotfish for dinner but upon encountering a Blacktip Reefie, decides to shoot it in order to sell its fins, then I hope that we can all agree that the circumstances leading to the Shark's demise are radically different from the first example. Same-same as if that same Parrotfish-hunting spearo ventured across a White Teatfish and decided to collect it in order to pocket its staggering price of 150.00 bucks, notabene for a single individual.
In both these cases, the take is equally unplanned and thus defined as bycatch - but it is certainly very much intended and wanted!

IMO rightfully, Kerstin decided to highlight that difference.
She decided to differentiate between accidental and intentional bycatch, and I cite from her masters thesis.
Several studies indicate that threatened species are also caught as bycatch in artisanal fisheries (Godley et al. 1998, Jaramillo-Legorreta et al. 2007, Peckham et al. 2007). Bycatch is defined as the capture of non-target species or undesired sizes of target species (Lewison et al. 2004). Thus, bycatch is typically discarded. However, bycatch can also be retained as valuable source of income, and hence be sought intentionally (Ebert et al. 2013). Furthermore, the association of intentional bycatch of several marine species with artisanal fisheries has recently been reported (Casale 2011). Therefore, inshore shark species may be increasingly under pressure from local-scale artisanal fisheries...

Respondents who had sharks as bycatch were further divided into accidental and intentional bycatch (further described in chapter 1). The distinction between intentional and accidental bycatch was mainly based on the use of sharks caught. Discard of sharks caught is the main criterion in this study for accidental bycatch. Since non-targeted but used sharks may be caught intentionally, any kind of usage (e.g. fin sale, meat sale, regular and repeated consumption) is regarded as main criterion for intentional bycatch.

Gill-nets and hand-lines are commonly used in artisanal fisheries to target reef finfishes (Pratchett et al. 2011). Therefore, the deployment of lines with catch capacities of around 100 pounds and more is used as a further criterion for intentional bycatch. Moreover, the application of spears and spearguns is considered here as technique used for intentional bycatch, since the intrinsic purpose of that fishing gear excludes accidental bycatch.
And with that in mind, this was the result.

See what I mean?
Suddenly, those otherwise rather innocuous bycatch statistics become highly relevant. As a minimum, they document that catching Sharks has become desirable for well over half of Fiji's coastal fishermen - and we all know all-too-well how that desire will lead to dire consequences!
Case in point: we're definitely losing Bull Sharks at a rather alarming rate!

Alas, the paper's peer reviewers did not agree.
The differentiation between accidental and intentional bycatch was scrapped, IMO much to the detriment of the paper's relevance along with its value for any fisheries management bodies.
Oh well - at least the authorities here know the whole picture.

And one last thing.
Remember the musings about Spinner Sharks in Fiji? 
Kerstin's picture from the Lautoka market has been recently corroborated by this catch in the Rewa. That's not a Blacktip C. limbatus but a Spinner, C. brevipinna - check out the anal fin and compare to this ID guide!

But I'm digressing as always.

1 comment:

Karen Stone said...

Great work looking forward to reading the whole paper!