The Department of Environment is reminding the public that it is illegal to kill, harm or possess a shark or any part of a shark in the Cayman Islands. The warning comes after six dead sharks, and the removed fins of a nurse shark were found in the Cayman Islands during the month of July. As a result of these reports, DoE Enforcement is on high alert and has ramped up its regular patrols around the shoreline, boat ramps and boat docks. The Department emphasised that any offenses will be prosecuted and penalties for breaking the law include fines, imprisonment, and boat and/or vehicle seizure.
“In bringing this information to the public’s attention, we hope that residents will be more vigilant and say something if they see something. Sharks are an important part of maintaining a healthy marine environment and are an important non-consumptive resource for Cayman’s marine-based economy. Therefore, we all need to do our part to protect them, which will then benefit our reefs and the other fish that live in our waters,” said Johanna Kohler, DoE Shark Project Officer.
Three of the dead sharks were found in Cayman Brac and reported to the DoE. The species were unknown, and the animals were all found within the vicinity of Scott’s Dock. Some had fins and/or other parts of the body removed. The July discovery adds to a concerning record for the Brac as the DoE has received reports of two to three dead sharks per month on that island since the beginning of the year. Most of these sharks were adults.
“Sharks are often attracted to the smell of fish guts and blood in the water at fish cleaning stations, such as the one at Scott’s Dock, and approach the area hoping to receive a few scraps to eat,” explained Ms. Kohler. “Persons fishing in the area are then likely to encounter these sharks because they are drawn to the fishing activities, either the baited hook or a hooked fish struggling on the line.”
DoE has increased the number of signs and added more prominent signs at popular fishing spots on Cayman Brac to inform and remind residents about the law.
On 30 July the removed fins of a nurse shark were discovered at Lobster Pot dock and two dead Caribbean reef sharks at Newlands boat dock were found and reported. Both reef sharks were killed with a knife. DoE scientists determined that the sharks were neonates, born within the past two to three weeks, evidenced by their belly buttons which were still visible.
Ms. Kohler explained that small sharks are very vulnerable because there is no parental care in sharks. After birth, juvenile sharks are immediately on their own to find food and shelter from bigger predators, and usually end up in shallow water and intertidal mangroves. Summer is reproductive season (mating and pupping) for sharks and pregnant females are pupping now. As a result, fishermen will more frequently encounter young sharks over the next few months when fishing off the shore, close to shallow water and mangroves. The DoE asks that fishermen stop fishing while there is a shark around and quickly attend to any accidentally hooked sharks to help improve the new-born’s chance of survival.
Ms. Kohler herself encountered another dead shark at Lobster Pot dock while responding to a report made by a member of the public regarding the removed fins from a nurse shark. That animal is believed to be a female dusky smooth hound shark (Mustelus canis), a deep-water species which was likely caught and killed accidentally. Deep water sharks often die on fishing lines because they cannot survive the pressure change when being reeled in from deep depths and arrive dead on the surface. This is only the third record of this species in Cayman since 1987. It is globally classified as “near threatened” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List.
What to do if a shark is encountered
If a shark is accidentally caught and is alive on the surface, the DoE have provided the following instructions:
• Release the shark
• Remove the hook if possible and comfortable to do so OR cut the line as close to the hook as possible. Use circle hooks because these are less likely to hook the shark in the gut and are easier to remove
• Use non-stainless steel hooks because they will rust out relatively quickly if the hook remains in the shark, thus improving the animal’s chances of survival
• Avoid any additional injuries to the shark and limit the amount of time spent handling it because the stress can cause the animal to die post release
The DoE encourages the public to report suspicious behaviour, ongoing crimes, and any dead shark sightings to the Department by emailing email@example.com or calling 949.8469. For urgent reports, persons can also call 911 or DoE conservation officers on 916-4271 who will respond immediately.