Skip to main content

Sharks are Friends not Food – The Issue with Shark Fishing

By 23 November 2017March 1st, 2019Conservation

Tiger Shark

Sharks are Friends not Food – The Issue with Shark Fishing

We are often asked by are guests, if they will see sharks while diving in Lembongan. Sadly the answer to this is; not often. This is mainly due to Indonesia’s issue with shark fishing.

The point of this blog, is not to point out something our amazing dive sites are missing, but more to rise awareness to issue that is global based.

There are a few reason for this.

The 3 key point that we will be swimming through are:

  1. Indonesia’s issue with shark fishing
  2. The global issue with shark fishing
  3. Misconceptions about sharks in the wild

Indonesia’s issue with shark fishing:

A lot of effort has gone into reducing this issue, by outside organizations, the Indonesia government and the diving community. Due to this effort, some sharks have been placed under protection by the policies created by the Wildlife Conservation Society’s (WCS), along side the Indonesian government.

Despite these affects and the protection polices for sharks and rays, Indonesia boasts the world’s largest shark fishery (Tanjung Luar), on which millions of people depend. This fishery, is just next door to Lembongan, on the island of Lombok. This booming trade does provide a livelihood for local fishermen but is increasingly alarming environmentalists.

Often, the sharks that are on the protected list, are found at this fish market, which is open to the public. Manta Rays, Hammerhead Sharks, Thresher Shark and Tiger Sharks are all common sightings at the Tanjung Luar market.

Sharks are mostly landed as bycatch in the tuna fishery (using longlines and gillnets) in Cilacap, Central Java province, but they are targeted catch by the pelagic shark fishery in the Tanjung Luar area.

For more information about the fishing market in Tanjung Luar, watch: Fish Full of Dollars

One year (February 2012–January 2013) of daily catch data from Tanjung Luar was analysed to determine their respective contributions to shark landings in Indonesia’s Eastern Indian Ocean Fisheries Management Region. A total of 1,426 sharks were recorded at Tanjung Luar, with an average daily catch of five individuals.

This just shows that the polices put in place by the Wildlife Conservation Society and the Indonesian government are not being enforced.

So what is being done? A large amount of outside conservationists and environmentalists are working hard to expanded awareness of the shark fishing issue to help apply pressure to the Indonesian government. It was this pressure that got the government to agree to the WCS’ policies. This continued pressure also got the government to set example of illegal fishing vessels, by blowing them up.

Global exposure of the issue is not the only solution for the problem, education is also an amazing tool.

The fishermen that are catching the sharks, have been doing this for decades, their fathers were doing it and they will teach their sons to do it. Fishing is their way of life and their way of income. These local fishermen are unaware of the global affect, that this type of fishing is having. This is where education is import. The Gili Shark Conservation Project is one such project trying to educate and reintroduce sharks to the Lombok area.

Bringing the topic back to our little island and in regards to the manta rays, education has created an amazing boom in manta tourism. The local fishermen, who know the waters very well and are comfortable on a boat, have swapped their fishing boats, for snorkeling boats to run snorkeling tours to see the manta rays. These fishermen have come to understand the dollar value of the manta ray. Manta ray alive for snorkel tourism is worth far more compared to a dead, fished manta ray, sold for food.

We are not trying to take away their livelihood but offer a better alternative, which in turn keeps the mantas alive and the ex-fishermen, making money.

The global issue with shark fishing:

It is estimated that 11,400 sharks are killed world wide an hour… This is a shocking figure, which works out to be around 100,000,000 sharks a year. Even without a great deal of knowledge of sharks, it is clear to see that this number is not sustainable.

On average sharks have a gestation period (pregnancy) of around 12 – 18 months. The common frilled shark, a species native to all oceans of the world, has the longest recorded gestation period of any animal species, namely 3.5 years. With long gestation periods and at the rate we are killing them, sharks will not be around for much longer.

Sharks are critical to marine ecosystems; without them the food chain collapses. As explained by Scientific American, they’re apex predators that control the density and behavior of their prey, which indirectly affects the abundance of species further down the food web.

Sharks are also economically valuable. While the value of global shark catches is estimated to be around $630 million per year, this figure is steadily declining. In contrast, shark ecotourism generates around $312 million each year worldwide and is predicted to reach around $780 million in 20 years.

Sharks are fished for their meat, liver oil, cartilage and valuable fins, which are hacked off, often from live sharks, to be used in shark fin soup, an ancient and prized delicacy in East Asia.

Again, education and awareness are key points needed for addressing this issue. Organizations like; CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora), Project AWARE, Marine Megafauna Foundation, Shark Guardian and IUNC Red List are working hard to research and educate the world about this global problem. Supporting these organizations is a great start in the right direction for helping sharks.

Shark fishing numbers vs sharks killing people

Misconceptions about sharks in the wild:

Those deep, spaced out cords, fill the darkness of the movie theater, slowly getting faster. Rarely have six basses, eight celli, four trombones and a tuba held more power over listeners. It was this iconic song that helped install the fear of sharks into many people around the world.

The movie Jaws, helped create one of the biggest misconceptions in the world – That sharks are stone cold man eaters. It is correct in saying that sharks have killed people, but it is not correct to say that sharks are man eaters. People that die by sharks, are most likely the result of a single bite.

Sharks do not have very good eye sight and rely on their other senses, to navigate the waters. One of theses senses, is taste. Once a shark has identified an object that it thinks to be food, it will bite. Due to the bad eye sight, sharks sometimes misidentify an object as food (e.g. surfer that looks like a seal), the shark is not 100% sure they have got the wrong target, until the bite. If the shark has happened to bite the wrong thing, in most cases it will release.

Kipp, the owner of Twin Island Dive, spent one year, working in South Africa, diving with sharks, almost every day. These shark dives were not in a cage, but in the open ocean. Over this time, Kipp never had an issue with a shark attack, on himself or any of his guests. With this statement, you may think that it may have been only reef sharks, Kipp was diving with, but no… Kipp was diving daily with; bull sharks, tiger sharks and great white sharks.

Shark fishing numbers vs other animals

To give you an idea of how much more of a threat man is compared to sharks. On average, sharks kill 12 people, world wide, per year, whereas man kills 100,000,000 sharks per year.  If this information is not shocking and supporting the fact that sharks are just misunderstood friends, than;

These are the numbers of humans these creatures kill each year:

  • Mosquitos – 725,000
  • Humans – 475,000
  • Snakes – 50,000
  • Dogs – 25,000