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.
Between Saturday April 11th and Thursday April 30th incl. The Shark Conservation Society carried out a twenty day shark survey in the State of Qatar. The survey was conducted at four levels.
The survey was able to confirm the presence in Qatari waters the presence of 17 shark and 12 ray species.
This report will detail the work done in all four areas as listed above and will make suggestions as to what measures could be adopted to further the sustainable management of elasmobranchs in Qatari waters. The Qatar government's enlightened attitudes to marine conservation, which includes trawling and shark finning bans, will be enhanced by adopting further measures to secure sustainable futures for elasmobranchs.
Organisers - Shark Conservation Society (R & J Peirce)
Expedition Leader - Richard Peirce
Catering, Logistics, Firstaid, Shore Base management - Jacqui Peirce
Scientific Advisor - Alec Moore, (IUCN - SSG member, Gulf region)
Arabian Gulf resident representative - Dareen Almojil
Volunteer researchers - Dareen Almojil, Matt Barnes, Tony Bennett, Shane Benzie, Mark Boothman, Mark Bradfield, Gary Gilgannon, Dave Green, Alec Moore, Stuart Nicholls, Al Reeve, Cheryl Sayle, Mike Sharland, Andy Sweeney.
Documentary film crew - Dave Green, Mike Sharland, Richard Peirce.
The Society would like to thank:-
Following the Society's successful expedition in Kuwait in 2008, it was decided to conduct a broadly similar shark search/survey in Qatari waters at the same time of year as a follow on, and to provide comparisons and continue building a 'shark map' of the Arabian Gulf.
The objectives were five fold.
Preparation for the expedition started in 2007. During this period four visits to Qatar were made to determine the scope of work to be undertaken and to seek help with resources from the various relevant government departments to enable the expedition to proceed.
From the outset the Qatar Coastguard (Brigadier Ali Mennai) were very helpful and supportive. Brig. Mennai introduced me to Dr. Mehsin, Dr. I Maslamani, Mr. Mohammad Saeed al Mohannedi, and Mr. Mohammad Yousef Aljaidah. The aforementioned together with Mr. Ahmed Al Hitmi provided a very generous and effective range of support which enabled an enormous volume of work to be achieved.
Following the 2008 Kuwait expedition the value of market work was fully recognised and on one of the recce visits to Qatar, I visited all five of the daily held fish markets and selected al Khor, the Doha wholesale market, and the Doha Corniche markets as being the ones to visit on a daily basis.
Chumming sites were selected on the basis of anecdotal evidence and trying to work a variety of marine sites to give the investigation the broadest possible base, and ensure the most representative results possible.
The time of the year selected was based on the desirability of having a direct comparison with Kuwait, and temperatures which were low enough for our volunteers to work in. (NB. Late June, July and August temperatures would be far too high).
The expedition's scientific advisor, Alec Moore, will be publishing on various aspects of the market work carried out under his supervision. What follows is a snapshot report of the market work, which is in no way an attempt at a full chronicle of this aspect of the expedition.
Surveys were carried out on daily visits in the Doha, al Khor and Corniche markets. Alec was accompanied by a small team of 3-4 volunteers and a total of 2019 specimens were processed, with sex, maturity, size, numbers present and other data being recorded for each species.
Tissue samples for genetic analysis were taken for researchers in various parts of the world and many specimens were photographed. On one day that the writer visited the al Khor market he discovered 15 net caught specimens on the quay (Whitecheek sharks), and noticed that on some of the animals the gills were still moving. One animal was placed in the water, mouth opened and moved forward by hand and then swum off strongly. The bemused fishing boat crew watched as another six animals were successfully revived and swum off, two that didn't respond were dispatched, and the remaining six were clearly dead.
*N.B. These sharks must have been out of the water for at least forty minutes prior to 50% being released successfully. The writer would welcome hearing from anybody who has conducted, or knows of, studies establishing how long these type of species can survive out of the water.
SHARKS: Arabian Smoothhound, Hooktooth shark, Snaggletooth shark, Slender Weasel shark, Pigeye shark, Bull shark, Whitecheek shark, Blacktip shark, Milk shark, Great Hammerhead, Arabian Carpetshark, Spottail shark, Sliteye shark.
N.B. The Sliteye shark has not previously been proven recorded as being present in the Arabian Gulf.
RAYS: Cowtail ray, Leopard ray, Arabian banded ray, Spotted eagle ray, Banded eagle ray, Mottled eagle ray, Butterfly ray, Cownose ray, Scaley whip ray, Spotted guitarfish, Devil ray, Giant guitarfish.
The picture was broadly similar to that encountered in Kuwait with Milksharks and Whitecheek sharks being the most abundant species present. However whereas in Kuwait Whitecheeks were in the majority, in Qatar almost twice as many Milksharks were processed as Whitecheeks.
The Doha market is the main wholesale market, and fish sold here often found their way to other markets (Wakrah and Ruweis- not sampled), Al Khor and the Corniche markets were largely separate landings with fish coming straight off the boats and into the markets. It was difficult to know how many boats were operating in Qatari waters but the Coastguard and the Department of Fisheries agreed that the likely figure of boats landing into all the Doha markets was 60/70 (a slight increase on the 40/60 boats landing in Kuwait at the same time of year). N.B. These figures should be treated with caution.
There was a noticeable absence of large specimens in Qatar's markets. The only specimens recorded close to or over the 2m mark were a Bull shark, a Great Hammerhead, and some Blacktips. It is possible that as the larger animals have been removed, smaller species - Whitecheeks/Milksharks have taken their place as the main apex predators. A Qatar government finning ban means the fishermen can only target the smaller species which are preferred for human consumption. This and the migratory behaviour of some shark and ray species will also have influenced what we recorded
Sharks are not apparently targeted in Qatar's fisheries, but tend to be net caught bycatch of little value. On several occasions researchers offered to pay for sharks in the market, and no payment was accepted. The Coastguard, Ministry of Environment, and the Centre for Environmental Studies all agreed that sharks were often only landed to 'make up the numbers' as fish catches are in general decline. As with other Gulf states, there is a believe in Qatar that eating young sharks promotes human male sexual potency, but there were certainly not enough customers to ensure the full buying of the daily shark catches.
The Coastguard and the Department of Fisheries confirmed that the majority of fish sold in Doha's markets were caught in Qatari waters.
Using the dictionary definition of the word, (plentiful) the only species which are abundant are Milksharks and Whitecheeks. However there is no previously gathered data against which to compare our findings, so it's not possible to conclude that Gulf shark populations are depleted due to over fishing or habitat degradation. As with Kuwait, Qatar's waters are a tough place to live with an enormous summer/winter temperature differential, and it may be that the toughness of the environment means there were never large numbers compared to other more benevolent seas!
April was selected as the time for the expedition for the following reasons.
The Environment Studies Centre have already indicated they would like to carry on our work at other times of the year to obtain comparative data.
Frozen sardines were supplied by the Department of Fisheries (Ministry of Environment) and the general chumming usage rate post set up was 5/6 kg’s per hour. Because we were often working with high surface temperatures (24 degrees) and were in deep water up to 60 metres, it was important to ensure our chum was working its way down through the water column. In order to achieve this we ladled in finely chopped fragments of sardines on a continual basis to augment the bags that were hanging in the water. This methodology ensured that we had a good strong surface slick as well as material going right down through the water column to the sea bed. In addition we used an “alarm clock” which was a shark rod set with the bait at varying depths of between 5/15 metres with no hook on the end of the line, but with a whole fresh bait fish tied on with a light piece of string. This is a very good way of determining whether there are large sharks a few metres down out of sight as they play with the bait, and often take it but do themselves no harm. With the drag set very light on the reel it is very obvious when something is having a go at the bait.
In order to ensure unbroken chum trails, we chummed around the clock wherever possible using teams of two people on two hour watches. By the end of the expedition we had chummed a total of 21sites involving 184 hours chumming.
Chumming is never as successful in warm water as in cooler seas, but Blacktips, Spottails, Milksharks and Whitecheeks were seen responding to the chum, so we knew it was working.
No large sharks were observed in our chum slicks which correlated with the facts that there were few large sharks in the markets, and few anecdotal reports of large specimens.
The shore based catering logistics, first-aid, domestic arrangements, and administration were run by Richard and Jacqui. Two qualified first-aiders (Andy Sweeney and Tony Bennett) were each attached to working teams. The volunteer researchers were initially divided into two at sea teams led by Mark Boothman and Mike Sharland. The market team was led by Alec Moore.
When twenty-four hour chumming each team of six was sub-divided into three pairs, each pair working a two hour watch, which meant that twenty-four hour chumming could easily be accomplished as each pair had four hours rest time between watches.
Our usual data sheets were filled out for all locations and encounters although when large numbers of juvenile Milksharks were caught, the data sheet method was abandoned in favour of tabular recording.
The Environmental Studies Centre provided the expedition with a research vessel (Mukhtaber al Bihar) for the first at sea eight days of the expedition. The Qatar Coastguard were responsible for our re-supply and crew change shuttles, and later provided vessels from which chumming operations were conducted. The Qatar Government Department of Fisheries provided vehicles and drivers for daily market visits and land transportation to locations such as the mangroves, and the Ministry of Environment provided further support.
I had hoped to achieve around 250 hours chumming. Inclement weather slightly restricted this as did other factors and so the total hours chummed were 184 hours. In one or two locations e.g. the channel to the inland sea (Khor Udaid) effective chumming proved to be impossible. While this was a negative result for us, it is a positive in terms of baseline data because future researchers will be able to draw on our experience and findings.
The at sea and mangrove days produced confirmed sightings of the following species.
Additional species identified through locally sourced photographs/footage from Mr. Mohammad Yousef Aljaidah
The market teams identified the 13 species of shark and 12 of ray listed earlier in this report. From the at sea/mangrove work seven species were confirmed and visual evidence of a further three was obtained (as above). A total of 15 shark species were confirmed present in Qatar waters.
The Collins 'Sharks of the World (2005)' and the SCS Kuwait (2008) and Qatar (2009) expeditions list the following species. (N.B. Q and K denote the Qatar and Kuwait expeditions).
The K and Q noted sharks above make a total of 23 species confirmed by SCS either by at sea observation or in the markets or by having been given photographic/footage evidence.
The following anecdotal and visual evidence of the current presence of Green Sawfish in Qatari and Bahraini waters was gathered.
Three days were worked placing nets across intertidal channels in two separate mangrove areas. Unlike in other locations (Bimini in the Bahamas and east Africa) no juvenile sharks were found using the mangroves as a shelter/cover area. Whilst three days is certainly not a large enough survey to say this definitely doesn’t happen, the indications are that it doesn’t. Many mangrove areas in Bimini, and east Africa don’t fully dry out around the root, while in Qatar they do. This may be the reason as any animals seeking shelter among the roots would have to go out and back with the tide which rather diminishes the value of these mangroves as a shelter area.
A reward be offered for confirmed sightings of these animals together with evidence and location. (photographs, lat and long). From this information a Sawfish map can be built up and then specific protection can be given in the relevant areas.
SCS cannot stress strongly enough the importance of saving this 'on the brink of extinction' species and are confident that the Government of Qatar will recognise the importance of ensuring their future. As a large and highly impressive animal, protection of the sawfish and its habitat is likely to result in much broader benefits to numerous other species, such as dugong, which use similar habitat such as seagrass beds.
As with Kuwait there was a scarcity of large sharks both at sea and in the markets. The relative abundance of smaller species (Milksharks and Whitecheeks) may indicate they now occupy the apex predator position in many areas.
While there have not been any previous surveys comparable to ours, and Gulf elasmobranch records are sporadic, there is considerable anecdotal, photographic and recorded evidence of large predatory sharks - Great Hammerheads, Tiger sharks, Bull sharks etc. These species would appear to now be rare and this is probably due to their not being able to stand the fishing pressure as well as smaller faster moving sharks with higher pupping rates.
Our three weeks in Qatar was, again like Kuwait, only a snapshot but I am satisfied it was a valid and representative snapshot. The data gathered in Qatar, added to that from Kuwait was gathered from processing 3539 elasmobranchs in the markets, and chumming 295 ½ hours at sea over a combined time total of nearly six weeks, so the snapshot is evolving into a photo!
The Collins 'Sharks of the World' list mentioned earlier has now had 6 confirmed species added to it as a result of our expeditions.
Our expeditions are for the first time establishing baseline data which is of tremendous value. The discovery near al Aliyah island of a probable Milkshark pupping ground will enable the Qatar government to further protect this species.
All those we worked with in various departments of the Qatar government were very aware of the need for sustainable fisheries management, and the 'no trawling', 'no finning' measures already taken are positive moves.
The Shark Conservation Society hopes that the data gathered on the 2009 expedition will further sustainable fisheries policies in the Arabian Gulf.
Writer - Richard Peirce, Chairman, The Shark Conservation Society.
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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.