Death of Rare Shark Highlights Need for Gillnet Ban
Press Release Date: February 18, 2015
Location: Belmopan, Belize
The death of a rarely seen scalloped hammerhead (Sphyrna lewini) in the waters off Hopkins village after it became entangled in a gillnet highlights the need to transition away from this destructive fishing gear. According to Oceana Belize’s investigations into the incident, the approximately 8’ hammerhead swam into a gillnet placed in the shallow waters on the north end of the village. By the time the fisherman pulled up his net on Sunday, February 15, the shark had already drowned.
Once a common sight in Belizean waters, the scalloped hammerhead is today classified as a species endangered with extinction. Globally, it is estimated that in the last 30 years, the population of scalloped hammerhead sharks have declined by more than 95 percent. Known as “walls of death,” destructive gear such as gillnets and activities such as finning contribute to this staggering reality faced by shark species like the scalloped hammerhead.
Sharks are at the top of the food chain in every ocean and as such play a crucial role in the maintaining the balance of marine ecosystems. “Sharks have been swimming in the sea for more than 400 years,” says Oceana Belize’s Vice President Janelle Chanona. “It is truly saddening that in our generation alone, so many of these creatures could be wiped out forever.”
Oceana Belize commends the call made by commercial fishermen more than 18 years ago for taking a stand on this issue by asking for a legal transition away from gillnets. Sports fishermen also support the ban given the regional experience of collapse of economically important fish stocks such as tarpon, bonefish, snook and permit as a result of gillnets. According to local sports fishermen, every year, sports fishing contributes more than 100 million dollars to the Belizean economy and employs more than two thousand Belizeans. “From a sustainable management angle and an economic standpoint, gillnets have no place in Belizean waters. A ban of this gear is an important step towards responsible fishing methods.”
Gillnets are still classified as legal fishing gear in Belize; all nets must be registered. However, it remains unclear how many Belizeans are strictly gillnet fishermen. It is also clear that a lack of monitoring and enforcement of the regulations governing use of gillnets in Belizean waters by both legal and illegal gillnet fishermen pose serious threat to fish stocks.
Across the world, gill nets are being replaced by “clean” alternative fishing gear because of the severe negative impact nets have on the environment especially as it relates to the bycatch of charismatic species such as dolphins, turtles and even manatees.