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Netted and left to die

Tevita Vuibau
Monday, July 01, 2013

THE Department of Fisheries says it is working to protect major nurseries for sharks and will look to implement stringent measures for fishermen applying for fishing licences as soon as possible to ensure this is done.

Fisheries official Aisake Batibasaga made the comments after the latest incident at Sonaisali Island where around 15 dead baby hammerhead sharks washed up on Nadovi Beach.

There was also a similar incident on Nukulau Island earlier this year where about 20 dead scalloped hammerhead pups washed up on the island's beach.

"Fiji needs to protect all the major river and adjoining nursery grounds, estuaries, bays and lagoons, for scalloped and all hammerhead species and inshore reef shark species," Mr Batibasaga said.

He explained the department suspected the sharks were killed by fishermen engaging in gillnetting in the area.

"Our understanding after looking at the pictures of the dead baby hammerhead sharks washing ashore at Nadovi Beach is a straight-forward discarding incident from a gillnetting fisherman from the area," Mr Batibasaga said.

"The baby hammerhead sharks could be easily caught with gillnet mesh between one-and-a-half and three-inch mesh sizes, as they would be found in schools from within the river-mouth and mangrove areas at high tides, and into the immediate inter-tidal areas and bays/lagoons, and close to within inner reef areas and lagoons even close to the reef passage areas."

With hammerhead sharks reproducing in litters, Mr Batibasaga said it was likely the dead sharks were all from the same mother.

"A scalloped hammerhead mother could give birth to 30 or above 45 pups or babies (which would be around 23-27cm after birth) and looking at the pictures, the baby scalloped hammerhead sharks would all be above 45-50cm, showing that they would already be free-living and feeding already in the water for the last two or three months."

He said the fisheries department would not tolerate the senseless killing of these sharks and would closely monitor fishermen.

"The Fisheries Department will now monitor gillnet settings across river mouths and bays inner lagoons so that we minimise such baby shark deaths from gillnets.

"The department will work to protect major nursery grounds and river systems and mangroves across Fiji and this would be implemented ASAP as a condition of the fishing license — not to set nets at night across rivers, and not to set nets overnight over this key breeding sites for hammerhead and reef shark species, and not to sell sharks at the market,etc."

He said the incident in Nukulau was also clearly a case of entanglement on a gillnet.

"Yes, the death of scalloped hammerhead juvenile sharks from Nukulau and Sonaisali are related directly and clearly just discards from a gillnet catch."

Scalloped hammerhead sharks (and all hammerhead shark species or look-a-like species) are protected under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) in Wild Flora and Fauna.

They were recently listed on the CITES Appendix II listing from the last CITES Conference meeting last year.

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