Sharks still under threat around St. Maarten: Value live shark is huge for economy

POSTED: 02/6/13 12:17 PM
Shark Release 2012A Shark with deformed face after attempts to capture the animal failed

St. Maarten – A recently conducted Nature Foundation research project has shown that sharks are still being taken in the waters surrounding St. Maarten. Despite a ban on the intentional capture and harming of sharks and patrols executed to combat illegal poaching. In 2012 there were 4 incidents of sharks being harmed or killed, two of which occurred in the Man of War Shoal Marine Park.

The practice of intentionally fishing for sharks has been forbidden since October 2011, when the Ministry of Tourism, Economic Affairs, Traffic & Telecommunication (TEATT) banned the practice of intentionally poaching sharks in the territorial waters of this island. The act of trying to catch by  tracking, stalking, baiting, chasing, trapping, hooking, netting, shooting or otherwise hunting –  sharks, rays and skates is prohibited and therefore the animals may not be wounded, caught, landed, or killed. Violators may be punished with jail and a considerable fine may be issued. If sharks are accidentally caught all steps should be taken to release the animal with as little harm as possible.

The Nature Foundation Report is part of a wider shark research project being conducted on St. Maarten which, based on surveys of dive operators and tourist divers, has shown that a single live shark is worth up to $884,000 to the economy of the island, as is opposed to just a few dollars dead. “The majority of divers who come to the island pay top dollar to see sharks in their natural environment. Sharks are an apex predator and are essential to the health of local coral reefs. If we do not have sharks we will lose our coral reef ecosystem. Sharks keep the reefs clean of unhealthy fish which in turn keeps the ecosystem in balance,” a Statement from the Nature Foundation said.

The Nature Foundation and dive operators have also been introducing the invasive lionfish to sharks in the hope that the animals will control the poisonous fish. “The reputation of sharks as blood thirsty creatures is largely exaggerated by sensationalist reports. Countries all over the world have recognized the importance of these animals and here on St. Maarten we will continue to put shark conservation as a top priority,” the Nature Foundation Report concluded.

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