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a girl holds a kitefin shark skin in the Azores, by Joost van Uffelen

Lessons from crashed fisheries

There are lessons in every disaster. 

We humans are able to learn from things that do not play out we want them to go and prevent from making the same mistakes again.

Are we actually practising this enough? Probably not.

During our recent visit to the Azores we were notified of the fact that the artisanal longline fishery for kitefin sharks had some very visual remainders on the island.

The fishmeal factory (Fabrica de Farinha de Peixe de Vasco de Sousa) in the port of Calhau has been closed for a long time now.

The factory is located on the South-West side of the island Pico.

It is a pretty eerie place of you ask me, with all these leftovers of a collapsed fishing industry.

The weather probably helped quite a bit in bringing the mood fit for a visit like this.

In a rickety shed behind the abandoned factory we encountered the kitefin sharkskins.

The shed had seen better days.. the sharkskin too as most were drenched from the rain and tightly packed in bundles.

It was as if somebody could come and pick the bundles up any time though.

Gillslits and small pectoral fins still showed in the sharkskins.

The sharkskin was destined to be used as sandpaper, the liver in various oil appliances.

Shark liver oil has been used for years in traditional Chinese and Mediteranean medicins. Some even believe that sharkproducts can help in curing cancer since sharks are very little affected by cancer in their bodies.

These traditional medicins have a big effect on animal populations worldwide.

Kitefin sharks are called "chocolade haai" in Dutch (choclat shark), not a good name for a shark that would not want to be eaten..

They live between 400 and 800 meters of depth and are caught by bottom longline as well as bottom gillnet fishing.

Apparently the kitefinshark fishery ceased due to the poor market value the sharks livers would yield, although the species was overexploited heavily.

Overharvesting and negatively changing market conditions usually go hand in hand in bringing these types of fisheries to their knees.

Unregulated fisheries are more often detrimental to their own fate. Landing figures show that this shark fishery started in 1972 and ended in 2001 with a steady decline of landings towards the end.

I am wondering what the population has been doing in the past 20 years, have they recovered? If so, how much?

Many shark species are slow in reproducing, so it could well be that it will take years before the population is recovered fully.


I am wondering if we in the future will think the same of the longline fisheries that are decimating shark and other marine species in the Atlantic at the moment.

Last time (2010) we visited the Azores blue sharks were abundant, now we were really happy with the one shark we came acros at the ghostnet we found floating between Pico and Sao Jorge.

For the ones really into this stuff, our friend Marty and Dutch shark scientist Guido Leurs organize a sharktrip out of Pico island this summer (if the Corona situation allows) you might want to attend.

Rumor has it they might pay this place a visit too..

joostvanuffelen's picture
About the Author:
Joost loves the oceans, travelling and (underwater)photography. Combining those three elements he creates ocean art, travel reports and ocean photo stories...

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