A hammerhead shark that is listed as endangered was caught and butchered at a local fish market recently.
Photos circulating in the Cayman Islands of a scalloped hammerhead shark that was captured and sold at the George Town fish market have prompted a response from the local Department of Environment.
“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,” according to a statement released by the government on Tuesday afternoon.
“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,” read the Department of Environment statement. “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.”
The department advises that eating shark meat carries a potential health risk. DoE officials said shark meat can contain high levels of trace metals such as mercury which, if ingested frequently, can become toxic to humans. Sharks also build up a concentration of ammonia in their flesh.
Certain local laws prohibit the baiting or chumming of water with the intent of attracting sharks. Sharks are also protected within local marine parks and the environmental zones, but most shark species range over much larger areas than the boundaries of the marine parks.
According to the department, all shark populations have declined dramatically, including the scalloped hammerhead – which the International Union for Conservation of Nature 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 and the current status of local populations of scalloped hammerheads remains largely undetermined.
In the Caribbean, the scalloped hammerhead is known to have declined drastically (by around 98%, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature) and DoE officials said this is largely due to increased commercial fishing pressure targeting tunas and billfish. Other shark species facing similar declines nclude the great hammerhead and oceanic whitetip, which have seen 99 per cent declines since the 1950’s in the Gulf of Mexico.
The Department of Environment is involved in a two-year collaborative study with Marine Conservation International, the Guy Harvey Research Institute at Nova Southeastern University and the Save Our Seas group to better understand the current status of sharks in our local waters.
The project is funded by the UK’s Overseas Territory Environment Programme (OTEP) and the Save Our Seas Foundation and will result in comprehensive management recommendations to ensure sharks receive the protection they require.
From the Cayman Compass, HERE