Overcoming the challenges of regulating shark fisheries in Puerto Rico

Overcoming the challenges of regulating shark fisheries in Puerto Rico

In the azure waters surrounding Puerto Rico, recent revelations of rampant overexploitation have thrust shark fisheries into the spotlight, prompting the scientific community to call for targeted regulation. However, this is no easy task, given the random nature of fishing gear and the varying vulnerability levels of the species involved. “The variety of shark species caught in Puerto Rico is a wide range of large and small coastal sharks that are top-level predators. These top predators and mesopredators have a cascading effect in throughout the ecosystem by increasing species diversity and increasing the density of individuals.”

At the heart of this novel is Puerto Rico, a captivating Caribbean-American region where the struggle for sustainable management of shark fisheries unfolds against the backdrop of cultural culinary traditions. From savory dishes (‘pastillillo’) to sensational kebabs (‘pincho’) and succulent filets, shark meat has woven itself into the fabric of Puerto Rican gastronomy. However, the thriving industry has faced challenges, and the once-thriving fishery is now at a crossroads.

Sharks, once a formidable competitor to Puerto Rico’s other native fisheries, have seen a decline. Scarce data since 2011, perhaps influenced by the lack of sharks discouraging reporting, has created a cloud of uncertainty over the state of the fishery here. Recent petitions by the Many Migratory Species Division’s Caribbean small boat commercial permit holders resulted in 2021 regulations allowing limited shark landings (Rule 86 FR 22882). However, Puerto Rico’s fishing regulations lack consistency between federal and provincial rules, although they do include fishing gear restrictions. This discrepancy opens a regulatory loophole, allowing the landing of federally banned species, including the Scalloped Hammerhead.Our ambassador to Winni) Sharks in territorial waters. But the shadow of the Endangered Species Act looms over species like the scalloped hammerhead shark, which is classified as “threatened” (Rule 79 FR 38213). “For years, many people, organizations and fishermen have called for updated shark regulations, which can still provide the opportunity for fishermen to make a living from fishing in a responsible manner and which will also protect sharks,” Espinosa said. “We now have a tremendous opportunity to solve this problem.” “Because commercial fishermen, conservationists and scientists in Puerto Rico are working together on the same side.”

To delve deeper into these challenges, a comprehensive study was conducted from February 2019 to August 2021 that carefully documents the species and size composition of sharks being landed. Led by researcher Espinosa, the team (made up mostly of boricuas) aimed to achieve two pivotal goals: first, to highlight the importance of shark species in the fishery, and to explore their numbers, weight and basic biological data; Second, scrutinize potential regulatory risks, especially with regard to federally banned and ESA-listed species.

In these small, targeted fisheries operating within territorial waters, 16 different shark species have been found to dominate the catch. “A few big tiger (Galiocerdo Cuvier) and blacktype (Carcharinus limbatus) sharks and many small but adult sharp-nosed sharks (Risoperidone spp.) account for more than 80% of the landing weight,” satisfying the local appetite for fish at reasonable prices. “Juvenile scalloped hammerhead sharks (Our ambassador to Winni) was the second most caught species but represented a small percentage of the weight and value landed due to its small size. Despite their prevalence, scalloped hammerhead sharks emerge as a conservation dilemma due to their listing in the ESA and the lack of consistency between provincial and federal regulations.

However, Espinoza believes this study paves the way for careful conversations about the potential for conservation of federal regulations, particularly in protecting endangered species: “One solution that could begin to address this issue is to incorporate specific restrictions for native species that are consistent with federal regulations that Protects species. Sharks are still allowed to be caught by fishermen. The fishermen we work with are full-time small-scale commercial fishermen who rely on fishing for their livelihood, and additionally, in Puerto Rico, we definitely need to boost food security from local producers. Working with fishermen, we identify ways in which they can continue their fishing operations while avoiding sharks that desperately need protection. The fishers we work with have been incredibly receptive and, in many cases, have led efforts to promote responsible fishing as with the two commercial fishers who co-authored the paper. The findings not only provide a unique opportunity for stakeholders to engage in constructive dialogues on measures that can protect biodiversity and simultaneously preserve the livelihoods of the local fishing community, but also illuminate the path towards sustainable coexistence between humans and these predators.

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(tags for translation)Puerto Rico Regulatory Challenges

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