As you can see here, I recently posted the picture below on our GooglePlus page, only to be challenged, quite fairly, by a chap called Jason Priest over whether or not hammerheads were an endangered species. A quick Google search told me that, only in the last few weeks, NOAA Fisheries have listed scalloped hammerhead sharks inhabiting the Eastern Atlantic Ocean and Eastern Pacific Ocean as “endangered”, while those living in the Central and Southwest Atlantic and Indo-West Pacific have been classed as “threatened” (source: Florida Today).
I’m sorry to say I’m not sure which species of hammerhead this is (can anyone identify it?) or where it was caught, but the photograph is from a captain known as ‘Mark the Shark’, who fishes out of Miami. As I told Jason in our GooglePlus conversation, I had assumed that this hammerhead was photographed and returned, like so many other fish that are caught these days, but having looked at Mark the Shark’s website, I see that he’s not averse to killing the sharks he catches.
“I always hate to see pics of people killing sharks. It saddens me deeply.” Jason Priest
Now, it is definitely not my intention to criticise anyone, but it appears that Mark kills a substantial of sharks (if you read this Mark, we’d love to hear from you). There is a quote on his website from the Miami Herald (2005) that reads: “MARK THE SHARK’S A KILLING MACHINE”. Another says, “If you’re looking for a 21st-century incarnation of Captain Quint, the obsessive shark hunter from Jaws, Mark The Shark comes pretty close.” Mark has also featured in a book about sharks with the questionable title: “Demon fish”.
I’m pretty sure Mark won’t be killing scalloped hammerheads though. As Jay Ocean followed up in response to our GooglePlus thread:
“…sharks are federally protected in South Florida and have been for the past 5years. This year alone I have caught more scalloped hammerhead than I ever have, just because the fish is in the boat for a quick picture doesn’t mean he’s dead on the deck. 100% of the hammerheads in South Florida and all of Florida are released, there are no shortage of these fish we catch them seven months of the year.”
With Florida sharks already protected, the recent NOAA Fisheries ruling will have no direct impact on commercial anglers like Mark. What’s more, I understand the Southwest Atlantic refers only to the waters around the East Coast of South America (image source: Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations) while Florida is bordered on the east by the Atlantic, not Southwest Atlantic, and on the west by the Gulf of Mexico.
But no matter what the official rules allow, perhaps it’s time for all of us fishermen to become a little more conservation-minded. Sharks are invariably killed only for their fins, and many are simply thrown back alive – finless – to die a slow death (please note: I’m not accusing anyone, especially Mark, of doing this). It may well be that this process of harvesting shark fins has been ‘the way’ for hundreds of years, but the fact is that the sea’s resources seem to be diminishing at a significant rate, and unless we do something drastic, it’s only going to get worse. I for one never eat shark fin and most people I know take the same stance.
As Jason replies in one of his comments:
“I always hate to see pics of people killing sharks. It saddens me deeply.”
Perhaps you’re right, Jason. Maybe we need a massive mind shift. But is it going to happen in our lifetime? I fear that we can only rely on organisations like the NOAA Fisheries to do something about it, because people have shown for centuries that, unless they’re forced to behave responsibly, they’ll go on filling their boats while fish stocks last.
Of course, the counter-argument is ‘where do you stop?’. I’m certainly not advocating banning fishing altogether and the commercial fishing industry is essential not only to individual families, but to entire economies. What’s more, couldn’t it be argued that catch and release is even more barbaric than catching fish for food? Can we really justify putting fish through the stress of being caught, only to throw them back, by saying it’s good fun? I’m afraid I for one enjoy my fishing and I have no plans to stop. I’m also happy taking one for the pot every now and then. Perhaps I’m a massive hypocrite!
For me it’s a question of moderation. There are plenty of things the human race does that I don’t agree with, but provided we can find a balance – an obligation to be responsible. Maybe we can offset the negative impact we have on this planet simply by being and acting more conscientiously. At least then we have half a chance.
It’s a massive topic and I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below. If you want to know more, watch this video on overfishing).
[Featured image source: Wikimedia]