Concern for Cayman Islands Shark Population

Following the recent capture and sale at a local fish market, of a scalloped hammerhead shark by fishermen, the Cayman Islands Department of Environment has received several inquiries from concerned members of the public regarding the protection and status of sharks in local waters. See excerpts:

Despite the fact that, globally, shark populations are severely threatened with overfishing, there are currently no laws prohibiting the capture or sale of any sharks in the Cayman Islands. Although several species of sharks are occasionally caught in Cayman they are not considered to be a target species, and fishermen do often take great care to avoid hooking these animals.

Sharks that are accidentally caught are often sold for meat so as not to waste the animal; it is rare that a shark is killed just for the sake of it. Buyers of shark meat should however be aware of the potential health risk of eating shark. Shark meat can contain high levels of trace metals such as mercury which if ingested frequently can become toxic to humans. Furthermore sharks build up a concentration of ammonia in their flesh.

There is legislation prohibiting the baiting or chumming of water with the intent of attracting sharks but this is primarily aimed at shark feeding activities. Sharks are protected within local Marine Parks and the Environmental Zones but as most species range over much larger areas than the boundaries of the parks, marine protected areas offer little protection for sharks generally.

[. . .] Globally all shark populations have declined dramatically including the scalloped hammerhead which the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) lists as endangered. This means this type of shark is considered to be facing a very high risk of extinction in the wild. Locally these sharks were sighted with more regularity no more than a decade ago, however in recent years sightings have diminished for unknown reasons and the current status of local populations of scalloped hammerheads remains largely undetermined.

Regionally the scalloped hammerhead is known to have declined drastically (by around 98 percent, IUCN) and it is thought that this is largely due to increased commercial fishing pressure targeting mainly tunas and billfish. Other shark species facing similar declines in the Caribbean include the great hammerhead and oceanic whitetip (99 percent declines since the 1950s in the Gulf of Mexico alone).

[. . .] Given the importance of a robust shark population in a healthy marine ecosystem, the Cayman Islands Department of Environment is currently involved in a two-year collaborative study with Marine Conservation International (MCI), the Guy Harvey Research Institute (GHRI) at Nova Southeastern University and the Save Our Seas to better understand the current status of sharks in local waters.

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