Shark Project: Neil Burnie, veterinarian and one of the lead researchers for the Bermuda Shark Project, cradles a Galapagos shark — one of the most common sharks in Bermuda. *Photos supplied
Shark Project: Neil Burnie, veterinarian and one of the lead researchers for the Bermuda Shark Project, cradles a Galapagos shark — one of the most common sharks in Bermuda. *Photos supplied

A shark-fishing ban will not be considered until proper research is completed.

Anglers and scientists say they would be on board with restrictions on fishing for sharks if a study of ­local populations shows that it is necessary.

Conservationists ­renewed appeals for a blanket ban after an 11ft female tiger shark was pictured ­being chopped up on a ­Somerset dock last month.

Dozens of photographs of neighbourhood children posing with the shark’s ­carcass were posted online sparking concerns over the glorification of ‘trophy hunting’ of a threatened species.

But figures show that hundreds of sharks are caught by commercial fishermen in Bermuda’s ­waters each year.

The hunting of large tigers is not common, with no more than five sharks caught annually.

It is impossible to say ­exactly how many sharks are landed as the annual catch is recorded in weight.

Galapagos sharks, known locally as duskies, account for the bulk of the catch —between 7,000lbs and 10,000lbs annually.

Many of the sharks ­targeted are juveniles, which weigh around 10lbs, and are used to make shark hash.

A full-grown adult Galapagos shark weighs around 200lbs.

Theoretically the number of Galapagos sharks caught could be anywhere between 50 and 1,000, based on those weights.

Allan Bean, a commercial fisherman and deputy chairman of the Marine Resources Board, said very few fishermen specifically targeted large sharks in Bermuda.

He said they were sometimes accidentally hooked by big-game anglers hunting tuna or amberjacks.

“There are a few guys who fish for puppy sharks. It is more common around this time of year coming up to Labour Day when there is more demand for shark hash.

“Some days they will catch two or three, some days they will catch 20.”

There are already restrictions on the number of hooks shark fishermen can set. And Mr Bean insists anglers would not be against more regulation.

“Whether or not the board (Marine Resources Board) decide to impose further restrictions based on the data they have ­remains to be seen.

“I think most fishermen agree that it is not in our best interests to knock the sharks down to the extent that the fishery becomes unviable.

Local study

“If a relatively good local study was done, in collaboration with the fishermen, I don’t think we would ­disagree with restrictions.”

Corey Eddy, a Phd ­researcher from the University of Massachusetts, hopes his work can help provide some of the information required.

He said there was not ­currently enough data to justify a ban.

“It would be incredibly unfair to simply throw a switch and shut the fishery down,” he said.

“People depend on the fishery for their livelihood and its part of their culture and their history.

“Any attempt at regulating shark fishing needs the full involvement of the guys who catch sharks.

“They need to be part of the process and solution, and that requires they ­understand the biological and ecological reasons ­behind any regulation and the consequences of leaving things unregulated.”

But he said anecdotal ­evidence showed that local populations of Galapagos sharks were declining year on year.

And he believes more ­information on the behaviour and migratory habits of local sharks could justify restrictions.

Shark populations are under threat world wide. An estimated 76 million are killed each year and scientists have warned that some species could soon be extinct.

Satellite tags

The Bermuda Shark Project has been observing and compiling some of the first real local data, using satellite tags to track sharks around the globe.

The team has visually tagged a handful of Galapagos sharks but the real ­focus of their research are larger tiger sharks.

Choy Aming, one of the lead researchers on the project said 21 tigers had been tagged on the banks.

“We have seen them go as far north as New York and as far south as Cuba.  The vast majority of our sharks are male and they top out at about 12 ft — the 18 ft monster shark does not exist anymore. 

“We have fished out so much of the ocean that many species aren’t ­allowed to reach full maturity. 

“The initial data is helping us ask the right questions and directs where we focus our efforts. On average, there has been a 75 per cent decline in shark populations worldwide, with some species as high as 90 per cent. 

“We have decimated our planet to near the point of collapse. I believe we should err on the side of caution when it comes to any environmental situation. 

We have no right to rob the next generation of the planet’s natural wonders.”       

Mr. Eddy, who is working on a study of Bermuda’s Galapagos sharks, added: “Personally, as an idealist and a want-to-be shark scientist, I wish we would stop killing sharks in every corner of the ocean.

“Realistically, I understand this is impossible. Does shark fishing in Bermuda need to be regulated? It is not my place to say.

“That’s between the government, the fishermen, and the public and requires all of them to be involved.”