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Shark Rescue: EU-backed project works to protect threatened sharks
Open-ocean shark populations throughout the world are dropping, not only due to overfishing but also from inadvertent captures by fishermen in search of tuna.
Once considered the most feared creatures of the deep, sharks are now confronted with their own struggle for survival. Rising international demand for shark fins and livers has imperiled many species worldwide. In addition to intentional fishing, certain species of shark are also threatened by accidental capture, known as “bycatch”.
In hope of reducing bycatch and easing the pressures on shark populations, the European Commission is supporting the “MADE” project - Mitigating Adverse Ecological Impacts of Open Ocean Fisheries. Launched in 2008, the four-year project is a collective effort of 13 universities and institutes from Belgium, Brazil, France, Greece, Italy, Portugal, Seychelles and Spain. MADE is led by Laurent Dagorn, a Senior Scientist at the Institute of Research for Development, in France.
This international, multi-disciplinary consortium is working to lower the bycatch of sharks caused by two widespread types of fishing: longline and purse seining. In longline fishing, thousands of hooks are deployed, generally targeting tuna and swordfish but at times catching also sharks. Purse seine fishing, the main method for catching tuna worldwide, uses large bag-shaped nets to encircle schools of tuna that sometimes also include sharks. Silky sharks, listed as “near threatened” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature, comprise the bulk of purse seiners’ shark bycatch.
To develop methods to spare sharks, MADE researchers are combining biological and technological studies with economic analyses at a variety of sites in the Indian and Atlantic oceans. Researchers are currently analysing the data collected and exploring the potential of many options, such as:
• closing fishing zones at times when sharks are likely to be in the area;
• defining methods to prevent sharks from being caught by hooks, such as an optimal vertical distribution of hooks or using an artificial bait;
• using fishermen’s echo sounder buoys to provide information on by-catch;
• successfully releasing living sharks after they are captured, while ensuring the safety of fishing crews.
Around 50 sharks from several species – including blue, silky and oceanic whitetip sharks - have been electronically tagged. This is providing reliable information on sharks’ behaviour and migration, for over 1600 days, that could be used to protect them. MADE researchers are also working in close cooperation with fishermen to develop alternative fishing strategies and new technologies. According to MADE’s lead scientist, Laurent Dagorn, integrating fishermen knowledge is essential to the project. “We believe that the most effective management measures are developed with the help of the fishermen who are impacted by them,” Dagorn said. “So we’re making a great effort to involve fishermen at all stages of our research.”
In the realm of wildlife protection, the effort to save sharks is particularly urgent, as they grow extremely slowly, mature late, and have long pregnancies that produce few offspring.
The MADE website can be found at: http://www.made-
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