The Bahamas shark sanctuary was created in July of 2011 by adding an amendment to the Fisheries Resources (Jurisdiction and Conservation) Act (Chapter 244). The amendment created shark protections throughout all the territorial waters of the Bahamas, over 650,000 square kilometers of ocean. It was a major win for sharks, who already benefit from the long-line ban of 1992. The Bahamas has long history of valuing sharks, recognizing the large amount of revenue through shark specific ecotourism. Here’s what the amendment says:
These Regulations, which amend the Fisheries Resources (Jurisdiction and Conservation) Regulations, may be cited as the Fisheries Resources (Jurisdiction and Conservation) (Amendment) Regulations, 2011.
Insertion of new PART VA into the principal Regulations.
The principal Regulations are amended by the insertion immediately after Regulation 36, of the new PART VA as follows-
36A. Prohibition on possessing, fishing for or landing shark or shark parts.
Subject to Regulation 36D, no person shall possess, fish for or land, any shark or shark parts with.in The Bahamas or within the Exclusive Fishery Zone ofThe Bahamas.
36B. Prohibition on the sale of shark, shark parts or shark products.
No person shall sell any shark, shark parts or shark products within The Bahamas or within the Exclusive Fishery Zone of The Bahamas.
36C. Prohibition on export or import of shark, shark parts or shark products.
Subject to Regulation 36D, no person shall export from, or import into, The Bahamas–
(a) any shark;
(b) shark parts; or
(c) shark products.
36D. Permit to fish for, possess or export any shark or shark parts for educational, scientific or research purposes.
(1) A person who wishes to fish for, have in his possession or export any shark or shark parts for educational, scientific or research purposes, shall apply to the Minister for a permit.
(2) An application made under paragraph (1), shall be made in the manner set out in Form 19A in the First Schedule.
(3) Where the Minister approves an application made under paragraph (1), he shall issue a permit as set out in Form 20A of the First Schedule, specifying the terms and conditions of the approval including the payment of fees as specified in the Third Schedule
36E. Catch and release of sharks.
A person who hooks or catches a shark while fishing shall promptly release the shark into the sea unharmed.”.
We’re obviously very excited to work in a sanctuary where sharks are protected and valued. There’s certainly work to be done and as with any new regulations, it will take time and proper enforcement to effect change.
Sharks are in trouble globally, and there are few locations where healthy shark populations still exist. The Bahamas is one of these rare exceptions. Because of the ban on longline fishing gear in the 1990s, Bahamian shark populations remain relatively healthy with a great diversity of species. By establishing comprehensive protections for sharks, not only will sharks be permanently safeguarded against other threats, but the health of the marine environment and the economy of The Bahamas will be conserved for generations to come.
An Asset to The Bahamas
Tourism is the largest economic income generating sector in The Bahamas. Many tourists come to The Bahamas to participate in diving or recreational fishing. Television and film crews also frequent The Bahamas to make use of the clear water and available shark species, generating further public and media attention for the islands. As a result, the high diversity and abundance of sharks provide a valuable asset to the Bahamian economy.
The Bahamas is one of the top destinations to snorkel and/or dive with sharks, claiming the name “Shark Diving Capital of the World.” Sharks rank high on the majority of scuba divers’ must-see lists, and many divers would be willing to pay more to see a shark in the wild. With 92 percent of The Bahamas Dive Association members offering some form of shark dive activity, sharks have become the main attraction in The Bahamas. Over the past 20 years, shark related tourism has contributed more than US$800 million dollars to the Bahamian economy. A single reef shark is estimated to be worth US$250,000 over its lifetime for tourism if kept alive on the reef. If it is fished, the same shark generates a one-time value of US$50-60. Sharks are clearly worth more alive than dead, demonstrating the need to protect this valuable resource.
Sharks under Threat
Sharks have been swimming the world’s oceans for more than 400 million years. They have survived multiple mass extinctions, but they are not equipped to withstand the threats now posed by humans. Their life history characteristics, such as slow growth, late maturation and production of few offspring, make them vulnerable to overfishing and slow to recover from decline. As a result, shark populations are in trouble globally.
The demand for shark fins, meat, liver oil and other products has driven numerous shark populations to the brink of extinction. The growing demand for the Asian delicacy, shark fin soup, has led to the killing of up to 73 million sharks a year and is impacting shark populations worldwide, which could potentially affect The Bahamas. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species has assessed that 30 percent of shark and ray species around the world are threatened or near threatened with extinction. The loss of sharks could cause irreversible damage to the ocean—and to economic activities, such as dive tourism, that benefit from healthy marine habitats.
Permanent Protection for Sharks
Time is of the essence – giving sharks permanent protection in The Bahamas helps
grow our economy, creates jobs and helps secure the continued survival of these
NASSAU GROUPER: SCIENTIFIC NAME Epinephelus striatus
The Nassau Grouper belongs to the Seabass family of fish. All Seabass have strong, stout bodies and large mouths. Five dark brown bands, a black saddle-like spot near the tail fin, and a dark streak running from its nose through its eye are features that distinguish the Nassau Grouper from other groupers. The dorsal fin is notched between for ward spines. The Nassau Grouper can change colour from pale to almost black to match its surroundings. It can grow to 1 to 2 feet long and can reach a maximum of 4 feet and weigh fifteen pounds or more. Nassau Groupers may live for more than 25 years. The Nassau Grouper is a valuable fisheries re source and an important part of the coral reef community. The grouper is usually found in caves, crevices and cracks of the reef. It is rarely found deeper than 90 feet. This fi sh often rests on the sea bottom, blending with its surroundings. Nassau groupers are found through out the Caribbean Sea. DIET
Nassau Groupers, like most Seabass are predators. They sit camouflaged out side the openings of caves, and wait for unsuspecting prey to swim by. They see well without much light, and often hunt at dawn and dusk when other fi sh are looking for shelter or waking up. Groupers eat many animals such as lobster, crab, octopus and shrimp. REPRODUCTION
Groupers spawn around the full moon during late December or early January after the seawater has begun to cool. They gather around banks by the thousands to spawn. Around this time they change colour: black on top and white on its belly. Spawning takes place at sunset when males and females move from the shallows and into deep water. Here they rise quickly to the surface in small groups releasing eggs and milt into the open sea. Males are often seen nudging the bellies of females as both sexes swim rapidly toward the surface. Spawning continues for several days following the occurrence of the full moon. Nassau grouper eggs are clear, less than 1 millimetre in diameter and they are buoyant. After they are fertilized they are carried away from the reef by the wind and tide. Within 20 – 45 hours baby fish called larvae hatch from these tiny eggs. After a month at sea, the ocean currents return the larvae to the reef. Of the million or so eggs released by each female, less than 1% will live and grow into adults. Nassau Groupers can begin life as a female and then switch to male. Change can hap pen at any time after maturity – when they reach 10 to 24 inches long and 5 – 6 years old. Male groupers are larger and thus targeted by fishermen. This can result in a shortage of sperm. In response to heavy fi sh ing pressure resulting in limited sperm, it is possible that a female may change to a male before reproducing as a female. In some groupers, there is no sex change. VALUE
There is a strong local market for the Nassau Grouper. Traditional dishes such as Boiled fish and Grouper fingers, keep the Nassau Grouper in high demand. The fishing of Groupers provides hundreds of thousands of dollars in income to fishermen around The Bahamas. THREATS
Nassau grouper is eaten by barracudas, lizard fish, dolphins, sharks and other large predators of the reef community. But the predators that have the biggest impact on the grouper population are humans. People are fishing groupers before they can grow to maturity and reproduce. Sex change may also cause a problem. In undisturbed areas there are usually equal numbers of male and females. In heavily fished areas there are often three or more times more females than males. This means many eggs will not be fertilized during spawning. Other threats include, habitat destruction, coral breakage from divers, siltation from construction, runoff from logging and agriculture, dredging, sewage, oil spills and other contaminants that harm coral reefs where Nassau Groupers live. CONSERVATION
There are a number of measures that can be taken to protect and manage the Nassau grouper:
Establish Marine parks and Reserves where the fi shing of grouper is prohibited.
Establish a minimum harvestable size limit and enforce the minimum legal size for a grouper which is 3 pounds.
Protect spawning aggregation sites – because of fishing at these sites, groupers are susceptible to overfishing.
Develop alternative fishing strategies: encourage fishermen to catch other species of fish.
Support the Closed Season for Grouper during the designated dates (December – February).
Epic Diving participates in town hall meeting with the Bahamas National Trust
Here’s a video put together by PEW back in 2011 when the Bahamas was working to establish a National Shark Sanctuary. The Bahamas has long been a safe haven for sharks since the Long Line ban of 1992. Over the past 20-30 years, shark populations have remained healthy and the nation has certainly experienced the benefits of shark tourism. We were proud to work alongside PEW and the Bahamas National Trust back in 2011 to raise public awareness and help pass the sanctuary!
Bahamas Shark Sanctuary
Sharks are in trouble globally, and there are few locations where healthy shark populations still exist. In The Bahamas, a 20 year-old ban on longline fishing gear has left its waters as one of the few places in the world with relatively healthy shark populations. This has paid off for the small island nation. According to The Bahamas Diving Association, diving tourism has contributed up to $800 million to the Bahamian economy since the longline ban. There are, however, no laws there that specifically protect sharks. Pew is currently working with The Bahamas National Trust to gain permanent protections in all of The Bahamas’ Exclusive Economic Zone, an area encompassing approximately 630,000 square kilometers of ocean. By establishing comprehensive protections for sharks, not only will sharks be permanently safeguarded against other threats, but the health of the marine environment and the economy of The Bahamas will be conserved for generations to come.