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Scrambling for sharks

By Jarrett Corke, Shark Project Coordinator – Halifax Office, WWF-Canada

Every summer throughout the month of August, shark fishing tournaments or derbies are held in small Nova Scotian coastal communities. Shark derbies have been taking place in Nova Scotia since 1994 and span from Louisburg on Cape Breton Island to Yarmouth on the western tip of the province.

While around 30 species of shark inhabit our cooler Canadian waters, 21 of which occur in the Atlantic, these derbies only target one species in particular, blue sharks. While blue sharks account for 99% of all the sharks caught, porbeagle, common thresher and shortfin mako sharks may also be caught; however, rules and restrictions exist to regulate what can be brought back to shore.

A Blue shark (Prionace glauca) plying the blue waters near Rhode Island, USA, in the North Atlantic ocean.  © National Geographic Stock /Paul Sutherland / WWF


In Canadian waters, the main threat to these species has been identified as ‘bycatch’, or incidental catch, in commercial fishing operations. Of the total estimated mortality for blue shark in Canadian waters each year, shark derbies account for 3%. As such these derbies are not considered to be of conservation concern at the moment.

What we do know is that not all sharks being caught and released alive are handled as best they could be. So, in collaboration with Art Gaetan, a recreational shark fisherman with 20 years of experience, we have developed best catch, handle and release guidelines to ensure that sharks are caught and handled safely, put back in good condition and ultimately will survive.

To help promote these practices, WWF-Canada species staff in Halifax provided training to captains at most derbies this summer. Captains training included a step-by-step walk-through of best practices and identification of commonly caught species. We also encouraged fishers to participate in scientific research on these species through a tagging program initiated by the Canadian Shark Research Lab.

To further promote the use of these practices on the water and participation in the science, a WWF conservation prize was given out at the Yarmouth Shark Scramble this summer for the most sharks tagged and released alive! The winner of this prize was Deloris Tedford aboard the Pembrooke Princess.

According to the Canadian Shark Research Lab, close to 80% of captains from all the derbies this past summer took part in the tagging program with a couple hundred sharks being tagged and released! Great job Deloris and thanks to all those who participated in the tagging program!

To learn more about what we do to help protect sharks, click here.

To help us continue our work protecting sharks, please consider donating, here.


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