Night of the long-liners
The men lazing in hammocks on the beach were in the process of ruining a prime Pacific dive site, but their backers came from elsewhere. Gavin Anderson wants to see them stopped
Two fishermen lay in their hammocks, wide grins on their faces. Clearly they had a satisfying night's work behind them, because mutilated sharks lay everywhere, covered in blood and flies. Their fins were either hung on a line, stretched between two trees a short distance away, or on the fishermen's boat.
As we walked up on to the beach I struggled to control the anger building up inside me. I felt bad for the man alongside me, Danny. He had worked hard to build up his business, Adventure Sports Diving.
Danny brought divers here all the time. It used to be one of the best locations in the Solomon Islands to see oceanic whitetips. Sightings were guaranteed, and the dive was one of Adventure Sports' highlights.
These fishermen relaxing in their hammocks were using the same beach to which Danny had taken his guests for picnic lunches for the past 10 years. They threatened to wipe out his number one dive.
The fisherman had been operating in several groups of, usually, just two or three. They would move from spot to spot and then back again until they had exhausted a local shark population.
They took everything they caught, even the juveniles with tiny fins. This was not the first time Danny had run into such fishermen. He had tried to reason with them and had asked them to move to a different area, explaining that they were affecting his livelihood by slaughtering the very sharks his divers came to see.
One group of fishermen did move away, only to be replaced by another a few weeks later.
These fishermen were not like those I had seen long-lining commercially off the Mozambique coast a few months earlier. The Africans had carried machine guns and were well aware that they were breaking the law.
The Solomon Islanders had no reason to be concerned: there is no law controlling the taking of sharks there, and no need for licences to fish for them. It is sad that a country that relies so much on tourism seems to be doing so little about this wasteful slaughter.
So how, you might be thinking, can a few island fisherman make that much difference?
How? These guys had pulled up at least 50 sharks in just two days. There was no point directing hatred at them: my attention was directed at the oriental lettering I had seen on their fishing buoy.
The fishermen had been operating with several hundred metres of heavy-duty monofilament line, well-organised tackle and buoys supplied from Japan. It was highly unlikely that they could afford all the equipment for such an operation on their own. So who was behind this little set-up?
Danny had been keen to find out, but had drawn a blank. Then some friends of mine told me how they had overheard a young New Zealander, dining in the Gizo Hotel and talking loudly about his lucrative and effortless money-earner.
He had the islanders doing all his work for him, he boasted. Was there some businessman in Tokyo saying the same thing about the New Zealander? I wish I had been there when Danny caught up with him!
Long-lining for sharks is the most barbaric form of fishing, whether it is carried out commercially or on a small scale. Most of the sharks are butchered just for their fins. They are then tossed back into the sea, often still alive, to die a slow, painful death.
Up to half a million sharks are thought to be killed in this way every year. The demand for sharkfin from South-east Asia has increased dramatically over the past 10 years, and stocks are now so depleted that fins are being imported from as far away as Scandinavia and South America.
What's more, all shark species are now being hunted, even whalesharks and basking sharks. When will this wasteful slaughter cease? When it is too late. We seem bent on eliminating a species that has been on this planet for 400 million years - and all for a bowl of watery soup.
Y If you are interested in helping to save the sharks, you can contact the Shark Trust at 36 Kingfisher Court, Hambridge Road, Newbury, Berkshire RG14 5SJ, tel: 01635 551150, fax: 01635 550230 or e-mail email@example.com
Appeared in DIVER - March 1999