Caribbean sharks

Bernard Seret

Are there sharks in the West Indies?

In the past, sharks were numerous in the West Indies

Although sharks are less common today, they were abundant in the 17th century . and XVIII th centuries as reported in the picturesque stories of Navy Lieutenant Louis de Poncy and Father Jean Baptiste Labat who explored the “Isles of the Americas” during those times.

Fishing has endangered sharks

The fishing , and especially targeted fishing for sharks, has caused their populations to decline severely. And although shark meat was not highly prized, it was commonly eaten because it was cheap and the resource plentiful. Of this historical consumption, there remain some receipts traditional in the Creole cuisine , such as stuffed with shark ! To perpetuate this tradition, local production is now insufficient, so much so that frozen shark is imported to meet local needs.

Accidents due to sharks are rare, even non-existent in the West Indies

As to accidents due to sharks, they are extremely rare in the West Indies. Certainly the navigators and other explorers of the 17th and XVIII th centuries brought back stories of attacks, but also how the Caribbean man, eater of fish, fought sharks, and how these relentless fights had considerably reduced the “number of these evil beings (…) within the seas”.

West Indies too, sharks are protected

Today, although sharks are still fished in the West Indies, overall production remains low, and when a fisherman makes a good "fishing shot" on sharks, this causes a media controversy, because mentalities have changed: a good shark is no longer a dead shark! There is a ecological awareness growing which makes recognize the importance of preserving all the elements of a ecosystem for the maintenance of good health! In maintaining this balance, sharks have a major role because of their terminal position in the marine food chains.

Of the marine protected areas (parks and marine reserves) are being developed in the West Indies. They are not intended specifically to protect sharks, but the shark populations that live in these areas benefit from these conservation measures. We can imagine that in a few years, we can develop activities ecotourism targeted on sharks, which as in other tropical regions, have compensated for the decline in fishing activities….

Bernard Séret , shark specialist, former researcher at the Research Institute for Development (IRD) and at the National Museum of Natural History in Paris (MNHN).

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