More shark species endangered

This is another story that I feel pangs of guilt over. As mentioned in my recent post on southern bluefin tuna; I used to work on professional fishing boats and when longlining for tuna, one of the largest by-catches were sharks.

In earlier days, we used to be able to bring large sharks on board and at least sell them. Towards the end, because of concerns over mercury; we couldn’t even do that – we’d just cut the line; even if they were dead. Interestingly, these sharks contained less mercury than more prized species like snapper and prawns, but that’s another story altogether.

Anyway, several more species of oceanic sharks have been added to the IUCN (International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources) Red List of Threatened Species. The very disturbing thing is that these species were up until recently classified as common.

All three species of thresher sharks were added, as has the short finned mako and the blue shark. The status of scalloped hammerhead shark was changed from Near Threatened to Endangered.

Makos in my opinion are one of the world’s most beautiful sharks – streamlined, fast swimmers, beautiful coloring and a truly awesome set of teeth. Unfortunately, they also taste good, but a bigger problem is that they are a prized game fish; one of the few sharks that will jump out of the water like a marlin.

I was really surprised to see the blue shark listed as I remember catching hundreds of these some days – we used to consider them more of a pest.

The other major problem facing sharks is the market for their fins. Even back when I was pro fishing nearly 20 years ago, dried fins used to fetch up to around US$30 a kilo. It was a lot of money at that time, it was welcome “drinking silver”.

I have no idea what the fins are worth now, but I guess it would be substantially higher. I did know of some fishermen who even back in the days when you could get a buck a kilo for large sharks, wouldn’t bother with that, they’d just cut off the fins and dump the entire shark – and sometimes the shark was still kicking. It can be a very cruel business.

Books and movies such as Jaws did nothing towards our attitudes towards sharks; it fueled somewhat of a paranoia that’s been handed down to the current generation. I have a healthy respect for the animals. I don’t see any of them in my bathtub, so I don’t swim in theirs; but really, if you use common sense, the chances of being attacked by a shark while swimming are, well, remote.

I have a set of jaws from a mako and I don’t think I’ll ever be able to look at them quite the same way again.

I think it’s about time we started appreciating the beauty and importance of these animals more before species like the mako and the very unique hammerhead shark become nothing more than another extinct curiosity.