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.
What follows is the report that was submitted to the Director of the Department of Fisheries Wealth in Doha, in support of the SCS suggestion that a potential whitecheek/milkshark nursery area be closed to fishing for the three months during which pups had been observed over a three year period.
After the Qatar report/proposal there is a brief note on our visit to Bahrain to re-schedule the cancelled 2011 expedition for 2012, and work with the Bahrain authorities to try and progress the laws we have proposed
REPORT PREPARED FOR THE QATAR MINISTRY OF ENVIRONMENT (FISHERIES WEALTH DEPARTMENT) BY THE SHARK CONSERVATION SOCIETY (U.K.)
This report covers three years of work done by the Shark Conservation Society in the general area of al ALIYAH Island.
In April 2009 SCS conducted a shark survey at various sites around the Qatar peninsula. At the same time as conducting surveys at sea, SCS teams led by Alec Moore, made daily visits to the main Doha fish market and the markets at al Khor and Doha Corniche. The market surveys recorded all elasmobranchs present and the at sea surveys chummed for, and caught, sharks for the purposes of identification and recording. (N.B. all species caught were released).
During the April 2009 at sea survey, large numbers of very young milk sharks (R.acutus) were caught, processed and released in the area around al Aliyah Island. In the same period the market survey was also recording considerable numbers of juvenile Milk sharks (R.acutus) and Whitecheek sharks (C.dussumieri).
SCS teams returned to the same location in April 2010 and again in 2011 with the aim of gathering further data to determine whether the area is an established nursery area for these species.
On all three years sardines were used as chum which served as an attractant for the sharks. N.B. It is interesting to note that although young sharks were caught underneath the boats and therefore not strictly in the chummed area, catch rates were noticeably higher when chumming was in progress.
Sharks were caught (largely on handlines) with cuttlefish being used as the main bait. Sharks were inboarded and identified, sexed, sized, photographed and recorded prior to release. In some cases sharks were placed into recovery tanks prior to open water release.
During a 48 hour period at locations 25°35’011” N / 05°18’433” E and 25°24’227” N / 51°40’396” E and 25°24’368” N / 51°41’005” E a total of 84 young sharks were caught, recorded and released in the manner described. These were predominantly Milk sharks (R.acutus) and a limited number of Whitecheek sharks (C.dussumieri). Whitecheeks and Blacktips (C.limbatus) were also observed in the chum slick. (Exact numbers can be provided on request).
Over 95% of the sharks caught and processed were pups with many specimens still showing umbilical scarring.
N.B. the specimens recorded present strong evidence of this area being a nursery ground for Milk sharks and Whitecheek sharks. On 29 April, in unfavourable conditions, the area was visited for a second inspection. The only specimen caught was a male Milk shark pup, before fishing efforts had to be abandoned due to adverse weather.
For the second year SCS surveyed the area near al Aliyah Island with chumming and catch methods being as described for 2009. The locations surveyed were as in 2009, and in one night at two nearby locations 5 male and 3 female Whitecheek shark pups and 5 female Milk shark pups were caught and released. In addition a more mature (unsexed) Whitecheek was observed in the chummed area. This was the second year and third occasion pups had been recorded in this area.
As in 2009 and 2010 the area was surveyed using all the same methods and visiting the same sites. On the date above four male Whitecheek pups were recorded along with two female Whitecheek pups.
This was now the third year running and fourth occasion this area had been surveyed in April, and on all occasions pups had been recorded.
AGenerally catch activity occurred between 1800hrs and 2200hrs with 1900-2000hrs being the time of greatest activity. SCS recognised there are many variables affecting catch results e.g.
Nevertheless over a three year period including 5 site visits there has been total consistency in finding Milk and Whitecheek shark pups. During all three years specimens in the fish markets have matched those observed at sea. The Society believes that enough evidence has now been gathered to conclude that the area around the latitude and longitude points mentioned is an important nursery for Carcharhinus dussumieri (Whitecheeks) and Rhizoprionodon acutus (Milksharks).
At the time of preparing this report the 2011 team have gone to the survey site on April 9, 10 and 12. Unfortunately on April 9 a failure of the GPS system meant that we had no way of knowing for sure whether we were working in the right area. On April 10 we were able to work successfully and juvenile sharks were caught and released, and on April 12 an electrical storm forced our return before any work could be done. Thus we were only able to work successfully on one out of three nights and on this occasion confirmed the presence of Whitecheek sharks pups as in previous years.
Further anecdotal evidence that the survey area is a known shark fishing ground came from Brigadier Ali Mannai who informed us that the Coastguard had recently discovered a shark fisherman camping on al Aliyah Island which he was using as a base for shark fishing activity in the survey area.
During the years 2009/2010 and 2011 SCS noted a significant decline in shark numbers present in Qatar’s markets (figures can be provided). Catches on display confirm that large numbers of same age sharks are caught at the same time, which indicates that juvenile groups are forming aggregations and are thus highly susceptible to netted fishing effort.
Recent years have seen a marked decline in the incidence of large shark species in the Gulf (Tiger sharks, Bull sharks, Hammerheads) and even large Blacktips are now becoming rarer. The Shark Conservation Society believes that it is possible that these species of large sharks have been less able to withstand fishing pressure, and their place as apex predators may have been taken by smaller species with higher reproductive rates e.g. Whitecheek and Milksharks among others.
Now that a nursery has been confirmed for three years running, SCS believes it would be beneficial if juvenile sharks in this area could enjoy a measure of protection to give them a much better chance of reaching maturity. Given that many specimens have been recorded with umbilical scarring, we believe that pupping is occurring in the early part of the year.
If the government of Qatar were to declare this area closed to all commercial fishing for the first five months of the year (January-May) a major step would be taken to help ensure the local survival and abundance of these two species.
If the three latitude and longitude points identified in this report were linked to form a triangle, and a two mile circular zone was established from the mid-point of the triangle, we believe a significant section of the nursery area would be covered.
Richard Peirce and Mark Boothman visited Dr Adel al Zayani and his team at the Public Commission for the Protection of Marine Resources, Environment and Wildlife.
The purpose of the visit was to reaffirm the Society's commitment to carrying out a shark research expedition in 2012, and to enquire on progress of the proposed law protecting the Green Sawfish (Pristis zijsron) in Bahrain's territorial waters.
Our discussions concluded with the signing of an MOU agreeing that the 2011 expedition would now proceed in 2012, and with the Bahrain side confirming their commitment to a law protecting the Green Sawfish. Both of these subjects were covered in press releases agreed to by both sides and released to Bahraini and other Gulf newspapers and media outlets.
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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.