Oranjestad, St. Eustatius- STENAPA hosted Statia’s fishermen at a Shark Conservation Workshop early this week to discuss their vital role in maintaining the health of the reef, and the populations of commercial and non-commercial marine life.
St. Eustatius was behind Bonaire and Saba in signing unto the Yarari Marine Mammal and Shark Sanctuary until late last year. The legal implications of this signing were also discussed.
The fishermen had indicated in a previous meeting in February that they would like to learn more about fish ecology and this was explained in a very interactive presentation by Kimani Kitson-Walters of CNSI. He confirmed that the local fishery is in a fair state with low fishing pressures and working marine reserves. The benefits of having reserves have been confirmed by fish population surveys over the years. Dr Kitson-Walters also explained the interesting behaviour of certain species of fish such as some groupers and snappers that undergo gender reversal when they get to a certain size so that the larger fish are male.
Tadzio Bervoets, manager of St Maarten’s National Marine Park was the guest speaker over the two days. His broad experience with shark conservation and handling made him the ideal person to conduct the training. Fishermen Carlyle Tearr and Merrill Brown visited Belize in mid-May and had first-hand experience with shark handling, which they shared with their fellow fishermen on day one. On day two which was a day at sea, he demonstrated how to catch, handle, tag and release a shark, in this case a Caribbean Reef Shark (Carcharhinus perezi). The skills learned will allow them to preserve the life of sharks encountered at sea. The tagging process (to be carried out by STENAPA in the future) helps researchers understand and monitor our shark populations.
The fishermen who attended were compensated for their day. Also, at the end of the workshop attendees received de-hookers, specialized pliers and a tackle box set of circle hooks. The 2-day workshop was funded by the Save our Shark project with a grant from the Dutch Post code Lottery. This project has brought the annual shark week to the island over the past 4 years and has funded all shark related activities such as the acoustic tagging and all shark outreach.