Thursday, March 5, 2009

Australia's Shark Fishery - Grasping at Straws

From the RTSea blog this morning a look at the shark wolves in Australia and efforts to leverage recent shark attack media for broader shark harvest quotas:

Always on the hunt to increase their annual shark catch to satisfy the growing Asian demand, Australian fishery industry officials are continuing in their strategy to link three recent shark-human interactions with the need to expand on shark catch limits.

In an online article in The Australian, it was reported that in North South Wales, Australia's southeast territory and home to the three recent attacks, an increase in prey fish and Sydney Harbor's improved water quality may be a contributing factor to the number of attacks.

"NSW has worked very hard for the last couple of decades to try and ensure the sustainability of its fisheries. There is less fishing and the fishing is more controlled -- there is more abundant prey in Sydney Harbour and maybe more sharks because of this," said Rik Buckworth of the Northern Territories Fisheries Department. He also said other factors could be climatic changes and more swimmers at Sydney beaches."The number of shark attacks doesn't mean there are more sharks around, per se, but they're localized on the feeding schools," said Taronga Zoo shark expert John West.

So, you improve the marine ecosystem by improving water quality and control fishing, which increases fish populations (ie: getting back to normal) . . . and that's a bad thing?

Well, according to fishery industry spokesman Duncan Gay, it is as he is blaming conservation-friendly policies for increases in predatory sharks in NSW waters - once again, the fear factor. He said high shark numbers could be linked to "bad government policy in closing up large amounts of the fishery and changing fishing habits."

In another related article, Dr. Gilly Llewellyn of the World Wildlife Fund says, "The calls for an increase to the shark fishing quota in NSW are driven by this opportunism. Some fishers are using the current media feeding frenzy around sharks to call for an increase in shark hunting levels and are making claims that have no scientific basis. They should be ignored." And other Australian fisheries department officials say there is no evidence that fishing restrictions have led to more shark attacks.

Could improved marine environments lead to a higher number of sharks? It's possible. Could the three recent shark-human interactions be simply a statistical anomaly? It's possible. Could the fishing industry be on a witch hunt, drumming up excuses so as to increase profits? Most definitely.

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