Nova Scotia Shark Derbies Cancelled

All three shark-fishing tournaments scheduled to take place in Nova Scotia this summer have been called off, signaling a possible permanent conclusion to these annual events that have been running for the past 30 years.

The cancellation comes as Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) has ceased issuing the scientific licenses necessary to authorize these derbies, and the organizers are unwilling to accept the conditions imposed by the DFO that would have enabled them to proceed.

The Yarmouth Shark Scramble, the largest of the derbies, which had been organized by Bob Gavel, ran for 24 years in southwestern Nova Scotia before being cancelled this summer, as stated by Gavel himself.

“The bottom line is we’re not going to be able to hold the tournaments any longer. I’m very disappointed, to say the least. It has a great impact on the local economy. It brought tons of tourists to the waterfront — in the thousands,” said Gavel.

The Petit de Grat Shark Derby in Cape Breton has been canceled this week. However, the Lockeport Sea Derby in Shelburne County will proceed, albeit limited to mackerel and groundfish. Typically, all these derbies take place in August.

A 488-kilogram shortfin mako shark was landed at the annual Lockeport Sea Derby in 2016. That species of shark was subsequently banned from Nova Scotia’s shark-catching contests. 

No Scientific Justification

For nearly ten years, the tournaments have received authorization based on the scientific data they contribute. However, Fisheries officials have now concluded that there is no longer a valid reason to capture sharks for research purposes. Starting from 2018, only one species, blue sharks, can be retained. Derby fishing for porbeagle, thresher, and shortfin mako sharks has been prohibited.

According to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO), the sample size is inadequate and not representative enough as it mainly comprises a few dozen large, predominantly male, blue sharks.

“The issue we are facing today is that the scientific data gained by landing sharks from tournaments in recent history is not contributing or advancing departmental DFO shark research,” DFO resources manager Carl MacDonald told organizers according to records of an October 2022 meeting on the future of the shark tournaments.

Lockeport Sea Derby is one of four annual shark derbies in Nova Scotia. 

Other Options Impractical or Dangerous

Tournament organizers were informed by the DFO that they could consider obtaining a recreational fishing license. However, organizers argue that involving sharks in the weighing process, whether onboard or alongside, would pose too much risk to those handling the fish, making catch and release unsafe.

George Benham, the president of Lockeport Sea Derby, expressed his view that the additional stipulation of utilizing landed blue sharks for human consumption was unfeasible.

“If we had say 10 or 15 sharks landed, we don’t have a market for 100 per cent of that. It would be too hard to get rid of that many. We just couldn’t do it. I don’t think any of the derbies could do that,” Benham told CBC News.

Tournament Take Too Small to Make a Difference

The cessation of tournaments is unlikely to significantly impact the blue shark population. In the year 2022, a total of 60 sharks weighing 5,800 kilograms were captured across the three tournaments.

This quantity represents only a minuscule fraction of blue sharks inadvertently caught by commercial fleets engaged in fishing for different species such as swordfish and tuna.

According to a Marine Stewardship Council assessment conducted in 2017, the longline swordfish fleet in Atlantic Canada retained or discarded an average of 1.5 million kilograms of blue sharks annually between 2011 and 2015 as bycatch.

From a conservation point of view, the number of sharks that tournaments are taking are not a threat to the population,” said Shannon Arnold of the Ecology Action Centre in Halifax.

We’ve never been opposed to the shark tournaments, especially since they were no longer allowed to land any threatened species.”

According to Arnold, certain catch-and-release shark tournaments in the United States employ cellphones to record catches while at sea and transmit live footage to the shore.

“There’s a beer garden, whatever. And they have a big screen set up and people are out there like in real time with their cellphones, they can measure it and it’s on video and people are watching it. It’s pretty cool.”

Number of Sharks Taken is Down

Over the past decade, there has been a gradual decline in the number of tournaments and the count of sharks landed in Nova Scotia.

Starting from 2006, tournaments were conducted in eight different ports, but in recent years, that number has been reduced to three. The Riverport derby took place for the last time in 2016, and Louisbourg in 2018.

According to a report by the Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO), a total of 2,964 sharks of various species were caught and released since 2006. Additionally, 1,543 sharks of all species were killed during this period, with the majority being blue sharks.

Between 2011 and 2016, tournaments witnessed an average of about 23 participating boats and were landing approximately 300 sharks per year.

“We’ve reduced the number of sharks. Last year, even though we had over 100 participants, only 40 odd sharks were landed,” said Yarmouth’s Gavel.

“We’ve done everything DFO asked.

Source

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