Newly published government reports released under the Official Information Act found that fishermen aboard New Zealand’s commercial longline fleets are being directed to maim or kill endangered sharks that are accidentally caught in their lines, oftentimes to recover hooks that cost as little as $1.
The reports were written by official government observers who were aboard some of New Zealand’s commercial longline fleets between 2016 and 2021. They have repeatedly witnessed “fishers swinging sharks by their tails, throwing them in the air, or cutting the jaws through to the gill sand guts”.
One of the reports states that the sharks are thrown overboard alive after their jaws were cut loose so the hook could be retrieved. Another report suggests that a skipper encouraged the crew to kill as many blue sharks as possible through their leased quota to “reduce the population size”.
Laws Lawson, chief executive of Fisheries Inshore New Zealand, said: “While I can understand the frustration of the fishers in incidentally catching a shark that is not wanted, nothing justifies such inhumane and callous action.”
Geoff Keey, spokesperson at the Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society of New Zealand or Forest & Bird, added: “Forest and Bird is urging the fishing industry to end the practice of killing and maiming unwanted sharks and calls on the Minister of Oceans and Fisheries to ban this horrific practice.”
“Sharks are magnificent creatures deserving of our respect. New Zealanders will be horrified, as is Forest & Bird, to hear of fishers swinging sharks by their tails, throwing them in the air, or cutting ‘the jaws through to the gills and guts’,” he added.
“The killing of blue sharks, along with mako and porbeagle, in order to retrieve hooks by fishers, has created significant risk for the management of these species,” explained Dr Riley Elliot, a shark scientist.
“Given observer coverage is extremely low in the tuna [surface longline] fishery, this sets a clear reasoning to roll out cameras or observers across all fishing vessels, to ensure behaviour by fishers is in accordance with Fisheries Law, the Animal Welfare Act and management goals, not only for sharks, but also other endangered species of birds, reptiles and marine mammals.”
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Photography courtesy of Hannes Klostermann/Ocean Image Bank & Ron Watkins/Ocean Image Bank.