Digest — May 2003
By Capt. Patrick Sciacca
|Part 2: “We know very clearly it’s an exploitation issue.”|
So what could this mean for our own species down the road? Baum says if something is not done to conserve the resource, there will be a “cascading effect throughout the ‘food web.’” She admits that specific outcomes can’t be determined at present, but asserts that removing the top layer of the food chain is not a good thing. Baum also cautions that if steps are not taken soon, we could see “local extinction,” which raises the question: Where do we go from here? Especially when commercial and recreational angling is such big business.
According to the Dalhousie team, one measure that would help is marine reserves&$151;in other words, mapping out specific areas where sharks seem to gather (perhaps to spawn) and limiting or preventing fishing in those sections at specified times. Baum warns, “Although marine reserves could play an important role, they will not solve the problem.” She adds that getting reserves put in place and restricting an ever-shrinking fishery is going to be a “contentious” issue. But, in spite of the hurdles, Baum and the Dalhousie researchers remain optimistic for the sharks’ future.
“To me, it’s not a hopeless situation. We know very clearly it’s an exploitation issue,” she says. “Implementing management [of the fishery] is not going to be easy, but this isn’t some type of mystery in the ecosystem.” The Dalhousie sharks, which include many more species than mentioned in this column, are simply fished beyond their capacity to replenish themselves.
For most fishermen I know, conservation is always at the forefront, and cooperative management can have a positive impact. One success story in the Northeast is the return of the striped bass. The population has rebounded in explosive fashion with proper management. However, almost everyone knows sharks take a long time to mature and reproduce, and many species (such as the great white, dusky, longfin mako, and bigeye thresher) are already prohibited targets. There are also no guarantees for recovery, like in the case of Canada’s codfish. But it seems that to ensure that there will be any fishery available for future generations, we must all do something ASAP.
It’s unrealistic for anglers to stop fishing (I know I can’t), but maybe we should look to release even more often than we already do and seek out cooperative research programs like the Apex Predators. Perhaps we should reach for the camera more often than the flying gaff. Many tournaments now have tag-and-release categories, and that’s a good thing. After all, these impressive creatures are not monsters, they’re fish. And like the beat-down striped bass of the 1980’s, the sharks need our help before the time comes when we will only be able to see them through an acrylic window.
This article originally appeared in the April 2003 issue of Power & Motoryacht magazine.