HOPKINS, Stann Creek District, Mon. Feb. 16, 2015–The death of a rarely seen scalloped hammerhead (Sphyrna lewini) in the waters off Hopkins village after it became entangled in a gill net, highlights the need to transition away from this destructive fishing gear.
According to Oceana Belize’s investigations into the incident, the approximately 8’ hammerhead swam into a gill net placed in the shallow waters on the north end of the village. By the time the fisherman pulled up his net on Sunday, February 15, the shark had already drowned.
Once a common sight in Belizean waters, the scalloped hammerhead is today classified as a species endangered by extinction. Globally, it is estimated that in the last 30 years, the population of scalloped hammerhead sharks have declined by more than 95%.
Known as “walls of death”, destructive gear such as gill nets and activities such as finning contribute to this staggering reality faced by shark species like the scalloped hammerhead.
Sharks are at the top of the food chain in every ocean and as such, play a crucial role in the maintaining the balance of marine ecosystems.
“Sharks have been swimming in the sea for more than 400 million years,” says Oceana Belize’s vice president Janelle Chanona. “It is truly saddening that in our generation alone, so many of these creatures could be wiped out forever.”
Oceana Belize commends the call made by commercial fishermen more than 18 years ago for taking a stand on this issue by asking for a legal transition away from gill nets. Sports fishermen also support the ban given the regional experience of collapse of economically important fish stocks such as tarpon, bonefish, snook and permit, as a result of gill nets.
According to local sports fishermen, every year sports fishing contributes more than 100 million dollars to the Belizean economy and employs more than two thousand Belizeans.
“From a sustainable management angle and an economic standpoint, gill nets have no place in Belizean waters. A ban of this gear is an important step towards responsible fishing methods,” says OCEANA.