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Nurse Shark Killings Signal Red Flag

Pictures circulating by email of nurse shark killers have island residents in an uproar. Pictures were taken at Baho Caye, an Island situated five minutes from Caye Caulker, about 10-15 minutes from San Pedro’s Hol Chan Marine Reserve and Shark Ray Alley on Saturday, February 28, 2009. If you ever wondered what happened to all those sharks we no longer see out at our reefs around Caye Caulker and San Pedro, this might be your answer.

The pictures are from a licensed tour guide of Caye Caulker Village, Jaime Rosado, and according to him he was on his boat on Saturday afternoon when he was alerted to what appeared to be a sailing vessel with what appeared to be a number of dead dolphins onboard. But to his amazement they were not dolphins but nurse sharks and he believes that over a dozen were netted over night.

“They had about thirty mature nurse sharks on their boat and they were already filleting some and they had a bunch of meat on the boat,” commented Rosado to News 7. “It was a Corozal vessel known as Janelli and they were maybe about nine guys on the boat. The boat looked like it was from Sartenja. I asked them what they were doing and they say they were filleting some fish and I tried to explain that we make our money off that because they come from the reserve; they are only out there mating and trying to reproduce right now so that maybe they can go back to the reserve after a while.”

Many island residents and tour guide operators are upset with this finding and many have expressed their thoughts. “This is infuriating, Green Reef and Hol Chan have spent LOTS of time educating the Sarteneja, Consejo, Corozal fishermen on sustainable fishing, certifying them as scuba divers and tour guides and they JUST INSIST on being IGNORANT!” commented one dive shop owner.

According to Fisheries Administrator Beverly Wade, the incident does highlight the need for better regulation. Wade stated to News 7 that they have sent a team out to the area to investigate and find out just how many sharks may have been killed and what impacts if any it may have.

“From a layman’s perspective, the pictures are pretty much, I guess, unpopular and gory because the sharks in Belize have primarily become a tourist attraction. But I guess from a fisherman’s perspective, it is everyday life,” stated Wade. “This fish is very much seasonal. It happens a lot around this time because it’s the Lenten time and there are huge markets for fresh corned shark. There is nothing illegal about the activity but what this incident has clearly shown is that there is a need to put into law, management regulations for the shark fishery.”

Miguel Alamilla of the Hol Chan Marine Reserve confirmed to us that the fishermen were not in the Hol Chan Zone and that the fact that there have been little nurse sharks in the area is because this is their mating season and that they usually move from the area to what are considered the “bajos”. He also stated that the fishing of sharks has been an old concern and that there are plans of protecting the nurse shark and putting it into law.

Apparently the fishermen were not fishing illegally as they had a shark fishing license.

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