Documents collected via the Official Information Act in New Zealand show that commercial fishers in the area have been killing or injuring sharks to retrieve their fishing gear, including hooks that cost as little as $1.
The documents come from government observers who worked to oversee commercial longline fleets in the country from 2016 to 2021.
Fishing gear on its own already presents problems for wildlife that may become entangled in nets or fishing lines.
“Bycatch accounts for about half of global shark catches. Longlines are mostly responsible, but bycatch in nets is also important,” according to WWF New Zealand. “In the Pacific Ocean alone, 3.3 million sharks are caught each year as bycatch on longlines. Indeed, in terms of numbers, sharks are the most significant bycatch species in the world’s major high seas fisheries. They are also particularly vulnerable to over-fishing due to their relatively slow reproductive rate, with several species showing recent drastic declines.”
Yet commercial fishers trying to retrieve their gear are another threat, as the observers documented that these workers would kill or maim sharks that accidentally became entangled in the gear.
The documents noted that fishers would throw sharks, swing them around by their tails, or cut through their jaws to collect fishing hooks, as Plant Based News reported. After cutting off the sharks’ jaws, fishers would throw the still-alive sharks back into the water.
Another document noted that a skipper, or person in charge of a fishing boat, told crew members to kill off blue sharks to reduce the population, even though the species is considered Near Threatened by IUCN due to overfishing and hunting for shark fins.
“The Blue Shark is caught globally as target and bycatch in commercial and small-scale pelagic longline, purse seine, and gillnet fisheries,” IUCN reported. “Most of the catch is taken as bycatch of industrial pelagic fleets in offshore and high-seas waters. It is also captured in coastal longlines, gillnets, trammel nets, and sometimes trawls, particularly in areas with narrow continental shelves.”
Experts have called the documents horrific and appalling and are calling for reforms to prevent these shark killings.
“While I can understand the frustration of the fishers in incidentally catching a shark that is not wanted, nothing justifies such inhumane and callous action,” said Laws Lawson, chief executive of Fisheries Inshore New Zealand.
Activists have drafted a petition for better shark protections and more monitoring of fishing vessels. The petition also wants fishers to release any bycatch, including sharks, with “as little harm as possible.”
“Sharks that aren’t intended for food should be released back to the sea alive and unharmed by cutting the line,” said Geoff Keey, spokesperson for Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society of New Zealand, also known as Forest & Bird. “Forest & Bird is urging the fishing industry to end the practice of killing and maiming unwanted sharks and calls on the Minister of Oceans and Fisheries to ban this horrific practice.”
At the time of writing, the petition has just over 30,000 signatures and is looking to reach 100,000.
This article by Paige Bennett was first published by EcoWatch on 6 April 2022. Lead Image: A blue shark in New Zealand. Cultura RM Exclusive / Richard Robinson / Image Source / Getty Images.
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