On October 3rd and 4th the Ministry of Economic Affairs, in cooperation with the Dutch Elasmobranch Society, organized an expert meeting on the management of sharks and rays in the Dutch Caribbean on the island of Bonaire at which more than 25 people from science, policy, fishermen, NGOs, control and enforcement participated.
The goal of the workshop was to develop innovative ways to reduce unintended mortality for sharks and rays in the recently designated Yarari shark sanctuary. The outcome will be presented as an advisory to government who will develop a management plan for sharks and rays in the Caribbean Netherlands.
Sharks are essential to a healthy marine ecosystem, being apex predators and forming an integral part of the complex marine food web. Their specific life history characteristics, which include slow growth, late age at maturity, and the production of few young, make them vulnerable to fishing pressure and loss of habitat, and they are slow to recover from population depletion. Overexploitation and habitat destruction have caused a steep decline in shark numbers worldwide. To help safeguard sharks for the future the Dutch government has developed a strategy for the management of sharks which aims to control fisheries mortality and increase survival in all waters under Dutch jurisdiction.
For the islands of Bonaire, Saba and St Eustatius, the Ministry of Economic Affairs invited local fishermen, scientists, NGOs and policy makers to discuss the issues around fisheries and management in the recently designated Yarari shark sanctuary. Sharks aren’t targeted in any of the islands fisheries but are common bycatch in line and pot fisheries. During the two day meeting led by two experts from the Dutch Elasmobranch (sharks and rays) Society, the participants identified concerns relating to current policy, management, control and enforcement and data collection as well as the communication between all levels. Suggestions for solutions, such as tools and techniques to reduce bycatch of sharks and changes in legislation to make shark finning illegal, were discussed. Advice to government was to support initiatives for pilot projects involving fishermen aimed at reducing shark bycatch and to put legislation in place to prevent the overfishing of sharks. The final conclusions were that continuous communication and dialogue is vital to success and that shark conservation has to stay on the political agenda.