Thursday, June 20, 2013

The Shark Harvest - Illegal Shark Fishing in Puerto Lopez, Ecuador

As an individual who has a deep respect and fascination for the high seas and all that dwell beneath its surface, I was quite astonished that I felt no emotion while witnessing the carnage. Really, it surprised the hell out of me. Emotions simply did not register as hundreds upon hundreds of juvenile hammerhead sharks were carted off into trucks. I've been studying ocean life, sharks in particular, for a vast majority of my life. I memorized scientific names and breeding habits of aquatic life like most kids memorized the stats of their favorite ball payers. At the age of nine, I begged my mom to drive me halfway down the eastern seaboard just so I could attend a lecture presented by Jean-Michel Cousteau. So when the bloody carcasses of thresher sharks were stock piled along the beach in Puerto Lopez and I didn't shed a tear, I became very concerned.

Perhaps the three straight weeks of dysentery finally took its toll. Or maybe it was the shifty glares of a sun-baked, knife wielding fishermen who at any minute could decide that they didn't appreciate the fact that I was photographing their public, yet illegal activities. After all, it would be easy to simply make this gringo disappear. Yeah, that could have been the catalyst kick in my 'just stay cool' survival mechanism.

What ever the reason was, when I finally began my edits nearly four weeks later, I found the emotional well was no longer dry. Several times I had to get up and walk away from my work, simply because I couldn't see my screen through the tears. I literally felt my heart break with every edit. The images of these once majestic animals, laying bloodied on the beach finally hit home. Shock was replaced by a deep sorrow.

It is a fact that fish populations are rapidly depleting. In a world where an average catch is a mere fraction of what it once was, selling shark fins on the black market is a surefire way to make a profit in the fishing industry. At $300 per pair, shark fins can bring in enough money to provide for a fisherman's family for well over a week. But the fact of the matter is that sharks are literally being fished to extinction. On average, sharks can take anywhere from 5-18 years to reach sexual maturity. Sadly, a great number of these animals are being harvested before they even come close to a reproductive age. And once they're gone, they're gone forever.

The Ecuadorian government recognized this crisis by stepping up and banning shark fishing as a whole. In 2007; however, the law was modified to make all “targeted” shark fishing prohibited. This loophole states that any fisherman who accidentally ensnares a shark can lawfully keep the animal. This loophole, combined with a meagre one dollar fine for every intentionally caught (adult) shark, leaves little incentive for fisherman to release their catch. 

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