SCS is a small volunteer run Society which has achieved an enviable record of conservation and research wins. The world today is obsessed with everything needing to be safe. A small adventure group of shark enthusiasts (SCS) simply can't afford the legal, insurance and administrative back-up which would guard against any risks of SCS having to pay out in the event of a claim or a legal action. The cost of our expeditions would have to double or treble!
When I read last year that a BBC film crew had to do a 'risk assessment' before filming a group of Morris dancers it brought home to me just how pathetic the world has become, we all know how dangerous knotted hankies can be! Today's adventurer who wants to be safe must wrap him/her self in cotton wool, go to bed and watch TV.
The directors of the Society are currently studying this problem searching for a way for our expeditions to be able to continue. It is with great regret therefore we have to announce that until this process has been completed, and a way forward found, we will have to suspend expeditions.
To our loyal supporters and past volunteers the message is 'We are not going away, won't lie down, and will find a way at going on, even if it involves all volunteers having to buy shares in cotton wool and avoid Morris dancers'! More to follow.
The 2012 Bahrain expedition followed similar exercises in Kuwait in 2008, and Qatar in 2009 (further work was also done in Qatar in 2010 and 2011). The expedition had been scheduled for April 2011 but was re-scheduled to 2012 due to civil unrest.
Our surveys concentrated on elasmobranchs and in all three countries work was done both at sea and in the markets. The impression formed on the Kuwait expedition was that shark populations could be seriously depleted, and this impression was reinforced after the Qatar surveys. However, due to a lack of baseline historical data, use of the word “depleted” has to be qualified by making clear that its an impression based on anecdotal rather than scientific data.
Between Saturday April 7th and Friday April 27th the Shark Conservation Society carried out a twenty day shark survey at the invitation of the government of Bahrain. The survey was conducted on six levels.
This report will detail the work done in all six areas as listed above, and will end with conclusions and recommendations.
Organisers - Shark Conservation Society (R & J Peirce).
Leader - Richard Peirce.
Catering, logistics, first aid, shore base management - Jacqui Peirce
Scientific Advisor - Alec Moore
Videography - Sarah Grant.
Volunteer researchers – Tony Bennett, Mark Boothman, Jeff Van der Hulst, Jon Mitchell, Michaela Moran, Ken Neal, Kerry Skeer, Mike Sharland, Andy Sweeney, Lauren Whitley.
Boat crews – Hani Bader, Sultan, Ibrahim.
The Society would like to thank
and all those at the Public Commission for Marine Resources, Environment & Wildlife, and the Directorate of Fisheries Resources, who gave enormous support to the expedition.
The Society’s successful expeditions in Kuwait and Qatar were instrumental in rediscovering a shark species, and recording five species not hitherto known to be in the Gulf. Following the expeditions, laws advancing conservation were passed in Kuwait and Qatar, films were made of both expeditions, and a list of species proven as present in the Gulf was started and is a work in progress.
The Bahrain expedition continued the work of the previous five years and for the first time a seabed camera and longlines were deployed in the survey. The ultimate objective of these expeditions, is to build up a picture of the health of elasmobranch populations in the Gulf, and evolve appropriate conservation strategies, and record as many shark and ray species as possible.
Following the Kuwait expedition in 2008, the Society decided to ‘work down’ the Gulf to Qatar, Bahrain and the UAE. Preparation for the Bahrain expedition started in April 2010 with an initial visit to the Kingdom by Richard Peirce and Mark Boothman. The visit resulted in the Society being invited by the government to carry out surveys in Bahraini waters similar to those done in Kuwait and Qatar.
Further recce visits were made by Richard Peirce to determine survey sites and finalise logistics. Sadly in March 2011 the expedition planned for April 2011 had to be rescheduled to April 2012, and preparatory and planning work was altered to take this into account.
April was selected as it had been the month of the earlier Qatar and Kuwait surveys.
The expedition’s scientific advisor, Alec Moore, has published papers based on data gathered on the Kuwait and Qatar expeditions, and on work he has done separately. Market surveys had provided most of the data gathered and the importance of this work cannot be overstated. However, market work can provide a misleading picture of abundance unless numbers of animals in markets are calibrated against fishing effort, and the impressions gathered on the surveys at sea.
The Manama market surveys in Bahrain processed over 1500 animals and determined the presence of 15 sharks, 3 guitarfish, and 7 ray species (see lists).
On two occasions sharks in the market were confirmed as having come from neighbouring Saudi waters. Whilst in Kuwait and Qatar it was felt that most of the sharks and rays found had come from Kuwaiti and Qatari waters. In Bahrain the proportion of market stock coming from outside Bahraini waters may well have been higher, as on the three occasions the author visited the market boxes of sharks caught outside Bahraini waters were pointed out.
Using the dictionary definition of the word (plentiful), there was no great abundance of sharks found in Manama market. However, as previously noted, there is little or no historical data against which to compare our findings.
As with Kuwait and Qatar there was an almost total lack of mature specimens from the larger species. Mature great hammerheads, pigeyes, bull sharks, tiger sharks and blacktips were not observed at all until the end of the expedition when two mature blacktips were recorded (N.B. one was caught 2 miles inside Saudi waters).
The value of fins makes up the main part of the value of sharks. The 3 fins (dorsal & pectorals) from a large mature female blacktip were sold in the market for 30 Bahrain dinars (£60). These were classed as ‘large’, medium sized fins fetched 12/15 dinars (£24/£30), and the very small fins from juvenile milk sharks and whitecheeks sold for between ½ dinar and one dinar (£2-£4) per kilo. In comparison to the 3 fins from the large blacktip at 30 dinars, the rest of the shark sold for 7 dinars, excluding the head which made 1 dinar (presumably for the jaw), total 38 dinars with the fins making up 79% of the value.
Times are lean for many fishermen in the Gulf and the value of shark fins helps boost falling catch revenues.
Trading in fins is now illegal in both Kuwait and Qatar, although there are black markets. In Bahrain being able to quantify the values of fins was a useful new dimension to our market work.
Frozen sardines were supplied daily by the Directorate of Fisheries Resources and the usage rate was 6/7 kilos per hour. In addition to the chum bags deployed over the side of the boats, two bait tubes were attached to floats and deployed 20/30 metres astern, and finely mashed sardine flesh, oils and blood was often ladled into the water to ensure the penetration of chumminto the water column.
The chumming was extensive and intensive and good long trails were achieved on most days. On only two days did we have the limiting factor of wind over tide.
I have used chumming to attract sharks in all the world’s oceans and sardines are an efficient material. In Kuwait and Qatar sharks responded to chumming and came and found us. I believe the chumming effort off Bahrain would have attracted sharks had they been there.
Snorkelling surveys with teams of surface swimmers spaced at regular intervals and swimming in lines were conducted to inspect sea grass areas near the Hawar Islands. Team leaders ensured that the surveys were conducted thoroughly and as much ‘ground’ was covered as was possible. Many of the volunteers had conducted similar exercises in other places, and remarked that they had rarely seen areas with as little life.
The Directorate of Fisheries Resources, had introduced us to a longliner called Ibrahim who was Bahrain’s Mr Shark. He came with us on three days to conduct surveys with longlines set on the bottom.
Apart from insisting that he replace his J hooks with circle hooks, we let him do exactly as he wanted (circle hooks minimise the risk of deep hooking an animal). He selected his four prime sites and we tried to help by ensuring that our chum trails would attract any sharks to his lines.
We did four separate deployments with fourteen hooks set each time, and the only animal caught was a large (1 metre plus) stingray which was successfully released.
The government of the Kingdom of Bahrain provided three vehicles for the market surveys and other shore based activities, and two vessels for the sea surveys.
One of the vessels was a very appropriate and serviceable workboat, and the other was a Dubai 38 which was often tied alongside the workboat and was used for eating, sleeping, toilets, and for the off duty team to relax.
The skippers, Ibrahim and Sultan, were led by Hani Bader from the Directorate of Fisheries Resources, and the whole team was a highly competent working unit displaying high standards of seamanship.
The shore based catering, logistics, first aid, and domestic arrangements were managed by Jacqui Peirce. The videography was done by Sarah Grant and Richard Peirce. Two qualified first aiders Andy Sweeney and Tony Bennett were each attached to working teams.
The volunteer researchers often worked in teams when chumming in shifts, doing snorkelling surveys, and working through the night.
Data sheets were filled out for all locations and assignments. Where possible (catching sharks) the data sheets were augmented by photos.
I had hoped to do more 24 hour chumming, however various factors limited our ability to do this.
Within half an hour of chum going into the water a shark (probable Blacktip) appeared at the bait tube but didn’t stay long enough for a positive I.D. Later in the afternoon there was a strong take on one of the shark rods, but whatever the animal was it dropped the bait.
A fishing dhow was questioned and the crew said they had seen no large sharks this year yet, and held up a small Arabian Carpetshark for us to see.
Good visibility of 13m+ and plenty of fishing activity even though this is a protected area. 19 large fishing dhows and 11 smaller craft were counted many of which sped off as we approached. Large numbers of kingfish were observed on the surface as we arrived. Excessive fishing activity forced us to move location after 3 hrs 20 mins.
A whole night’s chumming with all bait systems deployed, activity but no sharks.
An eventful site. Several species sighted and two takes on the shark rods. Despite all the activity no confirmed predatory sharks in the chum slick, and our attempt to snorkel with the whale sharks was thwarted when they disappeared! A female Arabian carpet shark was caught recorded and released.
More ground covered fishing all the time and with all chum bags and both bait tubes deployed.
Small (60 cm) female Arabian carpetshark caught, recorded and released. Another specimen of a similar size was caught, brught to the surface, unhooked itself and swam off.
Male 68 cm Arabian carpetshark caught, recorded, and released.
The workboat (Harab) was chumming at anchor while the Dubai 38 took a team to do a snorkel survey. The dugong and turtle (species not verified) were observed on several occasions during the 2 hour period. The snorkelling team worked to the north of the anchored vessel inspecting sea grass beds. Honeycombe, Reticulated and Cowtail rays were observed by the snorkelling survey team.
A cetacean was suspected but may have been a dugong as no dorsal fin was spotted and dugongs appeared at various times. N.B. It should be noted that the seabed camera was deployed on most days but the results have not been reported because the device was deployed in the hope of filming/identifying sharks and none were recorded.
Chumming over and onto an artificial reef. We had a very good slick and moved after two hours of the by now familiar lack of sharks!
Almost a dead area.
Changed location after three hours.
Anchored for the first hour then drift chummed for the second hour. Nothing caught or sighted.
An hour in the water survey over a largely sandy bottom. Flat calm, very good visibility.
The snorkelling teams were depressed and reported very little activity.
The snorkelling team did a 1.5 hour survey over a large area and apart from crabs, small bait fish and jelly fish saw nothing.
Chumming and snorkelling. Snorkelling survey revealed areas of dead coral.
Today was a longline (L/L) experiment. Ibrahim local shark L/L fisherman wanted to set 14 hooks (all J hooks) I made him change to circle hooks and we only set 4 to see what would happen. Apparently his optimum catching times for sharks are April, May and October.
Lots of catching activity in this area, but no sharks again, despite having Bahrains number 1 on board, two shark rods were deployed, and 3-4 lines bottom fishing.
To gain back hours/fishing effort we worked the two boats separately, about half a mile apart, and deployed the L/L another ½ mile away. Again no sharks.
We set the L/L then chummed for 2.5 hours ½ mile away from the L/L. One male Arabian carpet shark caught and release. Prior to arrival on site we stopped and questioned 2 fishing dhows and neither had seen or caught any sharks, except carpet sharks, for months.
Long line was deployed on the bottom for 2 hours 45 minutes with 14 circle hooks And whole fish as bait – Nothing caught so we moved and redeployed.
Again full fishing effort while L/L deployed and again nothing.
Full 14 hooks deployment and no sharks. On getting back into port we were hailed by a fishing boat that had caught a large female blacktip (fork length 1.84m, tip length 2.29m, pre-caudal 1.70m). She was in Manama market the next day and her fins sold for 30 Bahrain dinars (£60) and the rest of the animal fetched 8 dinars.
We set the L/L and both vessels moved away and we set our chum trail to lead right onto the L/L. It’s not that we were getting desperate on our last day but we chucked everything at the job – 2 shark lines out, 6 people handlining, 2 bait tubes and at the end 9 chum bags. Either these sharks have lost any olfactory capabilityor they don’t exist. The longline caught one large 1.5 m stingray which was released.
At the end of 15 days/part days at sea we had chummed and fished for over 99 hours 41 minutes. Given that chumming with sardines works in every ocean in the world we have to assume this method of attracting sharks works in Bahrain! We not only worked all the areas which local advice had indicated would also yield shark encounters, we also deliberately did 4 deployments (longling surveys) with Bahrain’s “Mr Shark Longliner” and let him take us to his favourite grounds.
On most days chumming conditions were excellent, and considerable fishing effort continued while chumming.
Water temperatures varied between 19.5’ c and 22’c and a most days water clarity (visibility) was good or reasonable.
As previously noted the sea bed camera was deployed on most days and recorded some rays but no sharks.
After 100 hours chumming and fishing effort in good conditions to only have achieved the results as below is truly alarming. In both Kuwait and Qatar Blacktips (maybe Spottails) and others had responded to chumming and this had allowed surface observation.
The following species were recorded as a result of the market surveys
As was noted following the Kuwait and Qatar surveys there is no reliable baseline data as to historical shark abundance in the Gulf so drawing conclusions based on our findings is difficult. However following the Kuwait expedition in 2008, our impression was that elasmobranch populations were depleted. In the five years that SCS has worked in the Gulf that impression has strengthened year after year. Several hundred chumming and fishing hours indicate that most shark species in the Gulf are present in low numbers.
An almost total absence of Gulf caught mature animals (both at sea and in the markets) from the larger species – Great Hammerheads, Tiger sharks, Bull sharks, and Blacktips – may indicate that their position as apex predators is being filled by smaller species whose reproductive strategy is better able to withstand fishing pressure.
Even if fishing policies were to change to allow the recovery of shark populations there is still the overall problem of habitat degradation which leads us to question whether the Gulf in its current state of decline could support increased shark numbers.
Increased and increasing salinity, sedimentation, overfishing, land reclamation and construction, and pollution have all played their parts in turning the Gulf into a seriously degraded sea at or near the recovery tipping point.
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Dateline 16th March 2015.
We would like to draw all members attention to a campaign to ban shark fins soup from all government related events in Singapore. The campaign is collecting pledges and you can go online at Campaign.com/FINishedwithFINs to sign up.