December 5, 2017

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by Madison Adams, Mission Blue


In partnership with PEW and Palagios Kakunja, Mission Blue has just concluded its first annual Shark Conference in Baja California Sur. The conference included speakers such as Dr. James Ketchum of Pelagios Kakunjá who works with the shark populations in the Gulf of California to Juan Cuevas who represented shark fisherman in the area. The intention was to begin an open, respectful discussion between scientists, conservationists, tourism operators, fisherman and other stakeholders over the concerns regarding sharks and rays in the Gulf of California. After each day of inspiring speakers, the speakers and guests of the conference were randomly put into focus groups with questions such as, How do we protect sharks in no-take zones, MPA’s, and swim-ways?  The groups identified the major obstacles, better practices, and possible resolutions. It was a great way to find solutions that were supportive and progressive with everyone’s interests addressed.

A hammerhead shark in the Gulf of California (c) 2017 Kip Evans Mission Blue

The major obstacles discussed were lack of government support as well as the lack of scientific data available. Also identified was a lack of education that leads to the negative perception of sharks as well as unawareness of what is being caught and consumed. A hot topic in the breakout groups was the lack of alternatives for fisherman in a changing world. The groups came up with solutions such as starting conservation education early to target the youth in coastal communities before they begin fishing for sharks. The discussions at the 2-day conference reinforced how crucial it is that scientists and fishing communities come together and work collaboratively to increase the government’s vigilance of rules and regulations, especially those involving marine protected areas.  Many agreed that there is great promise in creating support for local fishermen to flip to science, conservation and ecotourism.

Dr. Earle Addresses the Shark Conference (c) 2017 Kip Evans Mission Blue

One of the biggest solutions to the issues brought about in this conference was more ambitious education programs. Dr. David Corro from INAPESCA, the Mexican fisheries regulating body, pointed out that the average shark fisherman in the area does not get past the 7th grade. The science and knowledge available to the world is not, by and large, reaching the shark and ray fisherman. Another point Dr. Corro made was that the fishing seasons are not strictly enforced and that shark fisherman do not respect the close of the season and will continue to catch sharks and rays. If these communities understood that they are rapidly depleting a resource they depend on, perhaps they would change their behavior and embrace more sustainable practices.

A few key concerns covered by Dr. James Ketchum from Pelagios Kakunja, were that although we have certain protected areas where sharks tend to collect, the swim-ways are usually left unprotected. He also pointed out complexities in migration patterns, for example, that the different sexes of sharks occupy different areas and feed differently. Dr. Ketchum underscored the importance of continuing to study the movements and patterns of the sharks in the Gulf and to create MPA’s that better incorporate their swim-ways and habitats. What good is a marine protected area, if the sharks are caught at the boundary of the park as they travel along their natural migration routes?

Juan Cuevas, who is a local shark fisherman turned conservationist, described the effects of shark fishing in the waters near his community. His concern was that many fisherman are very close-minded and are not willing to relearn a skill when they already have a skill they have perfected. His solution was increasing ecotourism in areas with a high concentration of fisherman to jumpstart momentum for sustainable practices in the region.

Cacti to the Horizon in Baja (c) 2017 Kip Evans Mission Blue

Randall Arauz from CREMA said that the hooks used for shark fishing need to be readdressed. The hooks are so large and sharp that if a turtle bites one, it can go straight through their head. If the fisherman used appendix hooks instead, the number of unintentional turtle and mahi mahi captures would decrease substantially, he contended. Dr. Rachel Graham from MarAlliance raised concerns about coastal fisheries’ use of nets, the little regulation they have, and the lack of data generally available for conservation policymakers to consider. This brought up the discussion of net vs. hook and line vs. longline catch. Her solution was using scientific long line or BRUV (Baited Remote Underwater Video) to obtain better data for fisheries who rely on this data to be collected.

Luke Inman from IEMANYA focused on viable alternative economically logical options regarding international conservation of sharks, rays, and their habitats for seasonal fisherman. By working with communities to tag and report their catches, educating them on the fish they are catching, and supporting management and policy making, he is hoping to turn more of these fisherman into catch-and-release sport fisherman for ecotourism. Inman also started a scholarship program for children from sharking fishing communities to promote alternative skills and awareness of the conservation issues in the Gulf of California.

Mission Blue is proud of the results from this first annual Gulf of California Shark Conference, and we hope to see you there next year. To read the full outcomes from the conference, please click here.

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"With knowing comes caring." - Dr. Sylvia Earle