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Shark Sale at Local Fish Market

The scalloped hammerhead shark that was sold at the local fish market.

Following the recent capture and sale at the local fish market, of a scalloped hammerhead shark by fishermen, the Department of Environment has received several inquiries from concerned members of the public regarding the protection and status of sharks in Cayman waters.

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.

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.

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. Buyers of shark meat should however be aware of the potential health risk of eating shark. Shark meat can contain high levels of trace metals such as mercury which if ingested frequently can become toxic to humans. Furthermore sharks build up a concentration of ammonia in their flesh.

There is legislation prohibiting the baiting or chumming of water with the intent of attracting sharks but this is primarily aimed at shark feeding activities. Sharks are of course protected within local Marine Parks and the Environmental Zones but as most species range over much larger areas than the boundaries of the parks, marine protected areas offer little protection for sharks generally.

Although sharks are often thought of as dangerous to humans, more and more evidence has shown that they are in fact reclusive and avoid coming into contact with people as much as possible.

Hammerheads are particularly sensitive to the proximity of other large animals and humans due to the number of electro-sense pores these sharks have across their face making them some of the rarest sharks to encounter on a dive.

Globally all shark populations have declined dramatically including the scalloped hammerhead which the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) 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 for unknown reasons and the current status of local populations of scalloped hammerheads remains largely undetermined.

Regionally the scalloped hammerhead is known to have declined drastically (by around 98%, IUCN) and it is thought that this is largely due to increased commercial fishing pressure targeting mainly tunas and billfish. Other shark species facing similar declines in the Caribbean include the great hammerhead and oceanic whitetip (99% declines since the 1950's in the Gulf of Mexico alone).

Given the importance of a robust shark population in a healthy marine ecosystem, the Department of Environment is currently involved in a 2 year collaborative study with Marine Conservation International (MCI), the Guy Harvey Research Institute (GHRI) at Nova Southeastern University and the Save Our Seas 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 and recognition they so desperately require.

To learn more about DOE's efforts to understand local shark populations around the Cayman Islands or report a shark sighting please visit the DOE's website at www.doe.ky or alternatively join the DOE's Facebook group 'Sharks & Cetaceans: The Cayman Islands.'

For further information contact: Cornelia Oliver