Every summer for the past decade, Nova Scotia has hosted events called Shark Derby Tournaments. These tournaments (usually 5-6/year) happen during the month of August along the South Shore from Eastern Passage to Yarmouth. Participants in the shark derbies are competing to land and kill the biggest shark. The most commonly killed sharks in these derbies belong to the blue shark species [Prionace glauca]. Blue shark flesh is inedible for humans, moreover, there is no commercial market for blue sharks. Yet, over 2500 sharks have been killed since the derbies’ inception. Typically, shark fishing in NS is catch and release only, except when you’re a participant in one of these derbies. This exception to the rule is due to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans sanctioning the derbies, under the guise of research. The fisherperson who catches the biggest shark wins the tournament, DFO collects some data, and everyone enjoys a celebratory BBQ. It certainly seems like a win-win situation, but it’s not quite that simple. One need only take a closer look at these derbies, to see that there is a clear loser.
In 2003, a Dalhousie study published in Science magazine, reported the North Atlantic blue shark species are likely to decline to levels threatening the survival of the population. From 1986-2000, the blue shark species’ loss rate was 60%. The population has been severely impacted by commercial fisheries’ activities. In Canada, the blue shark makes up over 50% by weight and number of all catches in tuna and swordfish fisheries. In addition to the commercial by-catch, there are other important factors that contribute to the threat of the blue shark population. They have low reproductive rates, long gestation periods (9-12 months), and slow maturation rate (5-7 years). Killing 250 blue sharks in NS shark derby tournaments every year is by no means an insignificant number. The blue shark population may already be at a level where it cannot withstand even a limited amount of exploitation. Pushing the population below a level where it may never bounce back would not only contribute to the disappearance of a species but it will also lead to unpredictable consequences in the ecosystem. Allowing these derbies to continue is completely irresponsible.
Data gathered from the decade of derbies has not proven useful and did not predict the 60% blue shark population decline reported in the aforementioned study. Yet, if for some reason more shark research is required by DFO, observers can be sent on commercial tuna and swordfish trawlers on which sharks are regularly killed as by-catch. In any case, there is absolutely no scientific need for further stressing shark populations with these contests. Given the total lack of scientific necessity to justify these derbies, the 60% decline of the North Atlantic blue shark population, the high number of sharks killed by the commercial fishery as by-catch, and DFO’s mismanagement history, it is clear that a cautionary approach is warranted. DFO needs to address the decline in shark populations immediately and begin by ending these shark derby tournaments.
Nova Scotia Humane Society