Sharks face many dangers in the ocean. There are no limits to the number of sharks that can be caught on the high seas, and many fishing practices do not accurately target one species of fish.
Long lining, for example, is an indiscriminate fishing practice that catches and kills millions of sharks each year. Commercial fishing boats string out fishing lines that extend up to 40 miles in length with thousands of baited hooks attached. Long liners officially target tuna, swordfish, and other species but inadvertently bring in hundreds of thousands of tons of sharks every year. This incidental catch, known as bycatch, is a major cause of mortality for many shark species (PDF).
In the Bahamas, however, a 20-year-old ban on longline fishing has left Bahamian waters as one of the few places in the world where sharks are still thriving. The Bahamas are now one of the premier shark-watching destinations for divers. According to the Bahamas Diving Association, shark related tourism has contributed more than US$800 million dollars to the Bahamian economy over the past 20 years.
There are no laws in The Bahamas that specifically protect these amazing animals and the allure of shark finning is pervasive. Up to 73 million sharks are killed around the world every year just for their fins, to feed the demand for the Asian delicacy, shark fin soup. With fewer sharks left elsewhere, the healthy populations in Bahamian waters have already drawn the attention of a local seafood exporter as a potential source for shark fins.
The Pew Environment Group is working with The Bahamas National Trust to establish a full shark sanctuary in The Bahamas’ Exclusive Economic Zone, 243,000 square miles of ocean. The Bahamas provides a unique opportunity to conserve healthy shark populations before it is too late. A new shark sanctuary in the Bahamas – the dive capital of the Caribbean – would bolster the country’s economy and environment, setting an example for the rest of the world that’s as clear as the water at its beaches.