Middle East

In Pictures: The rise of shark fishing off the Congolese coast | Economy News

Pointe-Noire, Republic of the Congo – With the rise of industrial fishing off the Congolese coast, artisanal fishing crews have increasingly focused on shark fishing to make a living in recent years.

There are reports of crews fishing for sharks on pirogues – narrow, canoe-like boats – in the area dating to the 1980s but the phenomenon has increased steadily in the past two decades, with activists warning that the practice is becoming unsustainable.

Activists say the rise of specialised shark fishing has been driven by several factors.

The construction of oil infrastructure offshore has reduced the areas where artisanal crews can fish. The arrival of industrial fishing trawlers has meant greater competition for fish. And the continuing demand for shark fins in parts of Asia can make shark fishing lucrative.

The artisanal shark fishers go far out to sea, throwing nets overboard just before sunset and then attracting sharks with bait and blood during the night.

On most days, hundreds of sharks are dumped along the beach of Songolo in the fishing district of Pointe-Noire, where they are sold on the spot. Many are hammerhead, bigeye thresher, silky and mako sharks – all of which are endangered species.

Jean-Michel Dziengue, a Congolese activist of the environmental NGO Bouée Couronne, said that a large proportion of the sharks caught are small or juvenile.

“The trend affects the entire fish resource. In markets, fish are getting smaller and smaller. It’s a sign that people are fishing in spawning areas,” he said.

According to a 2017 survey by the Traffic NGO, 95 percent of the sharks caught in the Republic of the Congo (1,766,589 kg) came from pirogues of artisanal fishermen – accounting for one-third of their annual catch.

Dozens of different shark species are caught in the country, including seven listed on Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) and considered endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

The increase in the number of pirogues engaged exclusively in shark fishing in the Congo has been mainly caused by the rise of industrial fishing, according to Dziengue.

“First, fishing areas were reduced by two-thirds by offshore oil exploitation. Then foreign industrial vessels increased particularly after 2005 when they jumped from 24 to more than 70 in just a few years, and starting fishing without limits even in spawning areas. The artisanal fishermen were slowly pushed into a corner,” he said.

According to Traffic, in a maritime area where a maximum of 30 licences should be issued to industrial vessels, as many as 110 vessels were sailing in 2018. This number has fallen to about 80 vessels, according to Congolese authorities.

Dziengue said that authorities lack the means to enforce laws to prevent overfishing by industrial trawlers. “The authorities have only one patrol boat for the entire coast,” he added.

According to a recent study published by Current Biology, one-third of the world’s shark and ray species are at risk of extinction due to overfishing and the number of species of sharks and rays facing “global extinction crisis” doubled in a decade.

Senegalese shark biologist Mika Samba Diop told Al Jazeera that sharks were beginning to disappear from African seas in which they were previously common.

“Sharks are ‘the gendarmes’ of the marine ecosystem balance, they are long lived but have weak fecundity. If they are fished intensively, severe damage is generated,” he said.

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