July 31, 2019
Minister of Agriculture and Marine Resources Michael Pintard on Monday laid out an aggressive plan to alter practices by fishers and others who earn their livelihood from marine-based activities that are potentially increasing the risk of shark attacks in the country. He also assured those in the environmental sector that a balanced approach that would not undermine the country’s continued conservation efforts - that has to date reaped both social and economic gains for this nation - would be followed. The minister’s comments come in the wake of what is seen as an increase in the number of shark attacks experienced in the Bahamas.
“We are examining with a view of dramatically reducing, and I believe we will get to the point of completely banning, chumming in Bahamian waters,” he said. “We have a very serious concern about the increased feeding of sharks particularly in residential areas on the periphery of restaurants that are seeking to attract customers, that to us is posing a problem given where it is occurring”.
Mr. Pintard also pointed to the practice by some fishers of cleaning fish and discarding the waste portion in waters that are in close proximity to where persons are swimming. “We are absolutely clear that this is a disaster that is waiting to happen, we wish to move definitely, decisively to address this issue.”
The Agriculture Minister was addressing the Sharks and CITES Symposium: Prep for the CoP. The two-day event, hosted by the Bahamas Ministry of Agriculture and Marine Resources at Island House, brought together a number of shark and marine experts, both Bahamian and international, who discussed the continued protection of endangered marine species, including sharks and stingrays.
The Bahamas meeting comes just before a significant CITES member states meeting (Conference of the Parties – CoP) where they will vote to decide whether to put international restriction on the trade of certain fish, including the Mako shark, which were recently evaluated as being endangered or critically endangered.
Turning his attention to commercial operations, Mr Pintard said the Government is in the process of requiring hoteliers, tour operators, and others who benefit commercially from any shark viewing or interactions to have in place appropriate measures, including properly trained personnel to handle victims who have been attacked by sharks and first aid equipment. He also spoke of the need to create legislation, after consultation with the necessary parties, that would mandate that such operations have guides as part of their expeditions who would be responsible for looking out for sharks.
“It is important for us to respond to what is decidedly a different behavioral pattern of sharks in recent times,” Mr Pintard said, “certainly, in the Bahamas we have seen a difference in the amount of sharks that are coming close to shore and interacting with persons and we intend to address it candidly”.
Mr. Pintard also indicated the Government is in the process of introducing an amendment to the country’s legislation that would provide for an individual who is under threat of harm or death from a shark to defend themselves, including kill a shark, and not be charged with a criminal act. “We are not going to go to the opposite extreme and maintain a law that works against the preservation of human life,” he said.
The government, he added, has a tremendous amount of work to do to ensure that Bahamians have a full understanding of the behavior of sharks. It is his belief that this would mitigate against “kneejerk reactions by policy makers” as well as the average citizen because of fears of being bitten by a shark.
“We wish to dispel the myths that exist about the frequency with which the human population is under threat because all of us who follow the literature are aware these are rare occasions. Notwithstanding the fact that attacks on fishers, guests or Bahamians are rare, nevertheless they are quite traumatic when they do occur and they have a lasting psychological impact on those who become aware of it.”
Pintard also emphasized the government’s committed to working with all stakeholders to share the relevant information, but at the same time to ensure that the appropriate policies and protocols are in place to protect all concerned.
He told the CITES symposium (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora), the Bahamas Government stands in solidarity with them in their efforts to protect sharks and rays and that they will support ensuring that sharks be added to the CITIES appendices.
He noted that the Bahamas has signed on to the 2020 Challenge, which ensures that signatories commit to setting aside 20 percent of their marine environment by the year 2020. “We are well on our way having reached at least the half way mark and we are in the process of engaging in further discussion with cabinet colleagues to layout the additional areas that have been identified.”
The government has been very careful to work with all relevant stakeholders because they recognize that, along with the government, they are all equally important, the Minister said. The success that has resulted because of these partnerships - the protection of sharks and the Bahamas achieving the marine stewardship council designation that demonstrates the country responsibly harvests and manages its spiny lobster stock, which in turn enables operators to export the delicacy internationally without criticism among other things, has been significant. Mr Pintard credits this success because the government has “gone to great lengths to avoid antagonistic relationships and also to ensure that Government functions continuously so even with change in Government we maintain a similar commitment to protection of our marine environment.
“We appreciate fully the value of sharks. The literature is thick, tremendous research has been done in terms of the environmental benefit of shark contribution, ray contribution to our overall eco-system, the contribution to us socially as a people. It is an iconic species within the context of the region and certainly the Bahamas and then by virtue of the multiplicity of businesses that thrive as a result of the presence of sharks there is a definitive economic benefit to this country.”
(BIS Photos/Kristaan Ingraham)