All options are on the table when it comes to the continued protection of sharks in The Bahamas, or allowing for commercial harvesting on a temporary basis, Minister of Agriculture and Marine Resources Michael Pintard told Guardian Business yesterday, adding that the decision made by the government will depend on what the science says.
Pintard said he has had discussions with all stakeholders involved about this matter throughout his two-year term as minister in charge of marine resources, adding that data continues to be captured in order for a decision to be made.
The discussion about whether or not sharks have proliferated since the government protected them nine years ago and whether they pose a danger to fishermen, was raised in the House of Assembly last week by Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Finance Peter Turnquest.
Turnquest said in the House that he would discuss the matter with Pintard, but Pintard said yesterday there has been no discussion to date.
“But this has been an active discussion certainly since the last two years that I have been in the chair,” said Pintard.
“And it is a matter that I’ve raised with the technical team at the ministry to evaluate the merits of that proposal.
“I have obviously also had conversations with members of the conservation community, who have rightly pointed out the value of The Bahamas being one of those areas where we maintain protection for sharks and advocate for appropriate behavior of residents relative to appropriate fishing practices.”
A recent shark attack raised the level of concern about sharks once again.
Sharks attract millions of dollars of tourism spend to The Bahamas every year and the country has been hailed for its conservation efforts.
The Bahamas Commercial Fishers Alliance (BCFA) noted in a statement last week that it wants to see the commercial harvesting of sharks on a temporary basis.
Pintard said there is anecdotal evidence that there are more sharks impacting the food chain. However, he said data will have to show what the extent of that proliferation is and how their patterns have changed and led to this position taken by fishermen.
“It is not out of the realm of possibility that the behavior of sharks, even if a fisher is not coming to the surface with a bloody spear, even if chumming or discarding of fish product isn’t the reason, there may be other environmental factors like access to food influencing the change in behavior of a shark that might ordinarily co-exist in an environment with a diver, recreational or otherwise,” said Pintard.
‘Therefore, we know there is a need for additional study of this particular fact, so that whatever decision we arrive at is based on the science.
“Has there been a definitive change in the pattern of shark behavior or have the numbers grown to a large extent so that it has put pressure on their traditional feeding pattern? And so, these are matters, given the recent incidences we have had over the past few years, that warrant us taking a fresh, hard look at this with all the stakeholders being able to weigh in. Those that wish to conserve and those who believe the culling is important.”
According to Pintard, there could be room for provisions in the law to change based on the findings, meaning it is on the table for the level of shark protections in this country to be loosened.