Fishermen and nature organizations join forces in reducing shark bycatch

Yesterday, during Dutch Caribbean Shark Week on Saba, a kick-off meeting was held for a special project in collaboration with Saban fishermen aimed at reducing the bycatch of sharks in the local lobster fisheries. The new project is funded by the Dutch Ministry of Economic Affairs and is part of the implementation of the Yarari reserve for sharks and marine mammals that was established in the waters of Saba and Bonaire in 2015.

This is good news for sharks, but also for the fishermen,” says Irene Kingma of the Dutch Elasmobranch Society and coordinator of this project. “Up to 900 nurse sharks are caught as bycatch in lobster pots each year, which they often don’t survive. Moreover, the sharks are a nuisance to fishermen as they break the pots and kill the lobsters trapped inside. The challenge is now to find a design that trap the lobsters but exclude the sharks.

Photo by DCNA/ Hans Leijnse

In the project, several Saban fishermen will work together with the Saba Conservation Foundation (SCF), the organization responsible for all nature management on the island. “This is an important milestone for shark conservation around our island. For three years, we have been working together with other Caribbean parks on the Save Our Sharks project, with which we try to approach shark conservation from all different angles. We have already accomplished a lot when it comes to raising awareness and research, and we are very pleased that we can now start with a project that targets fisheries. For us, it was essential to have the support and cooperation of the local fishermen as they are the ones out on the Saba Bank every day. And the fact that we get to announce this during Dutch Caribbean Shark Week, the annual week in which we raise awareness for shark conservation, is definitely extraordinary, ” says SCF director Kai Wulf.

For a pilot project, a number of fishermen will be asked to use lobster pots with a custom inlet next to their regular ‘arrow head traps’. The bycatch of sharks and the yield of target species (lobsters) will be monitored in both the regular pots and the custom pots so that the effect of the new design can be deduced. Saban fisherman Bradley Johnson reacts: “It’s great news that the Dutch government has listened to the fishermen and that we can now work together in finding solutions to solve the bycatch problem.”