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

Pointe-Noire, Republic of the Congo – With the rise of business fishing off the Congolese coast, artisanal fishing crews have more and more centered on shark fishing to make a living lately.

There are stories of crews fishing for sharks on pirogues – slim, canoe-like boats – within the space courting to the 1980s however the phenomenon has elevated steadily up to now twenty years, with activists warning that the observe is changing into unsustainable.

Activists say the rise of specialized shark fishing has been pushed by a number of elements.

The development of oil infrastructure offshore has lowered the areas the place artisanal crews can fish. The arrival of business fishing trawlers has meant higher competitors for fish. And the persevering with demand for shark fins in elements of Asia could make shark fishing profitable.

The artisanal shark fishers go far out to sea, throwing nets overboard simply earlier than sundown after which attracting sharks with bait and blood throughout the night time.

On most days, a whole bunch of sharks are dumped alongside the seashore of Songolo within the fishing district of Pointe-Noire, the place they’re offered on the spot. Many are hammerhead, bigeye thresher, silky and mako sharks – all of that are endangered species.

Jean-Michel Dziengue, a Congolese activist of the environmental NGO Bouée Couronne, mentioned that a big 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 mentioned.

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

Dozens of various shark species are caught within the nation, together with seven listed on Appendix II of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) and thought of endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

The improve within the variety of pirogues engaged solely in shark fishing within the Congo has been primarily brought on by the rise of business fishing, in accordance with 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 mentioned.

According to Traffic, in a maritime space the place a most of 30 licences ought to be issued to industrial vessels, as many as 110 vessels had been crusing in 2018. This quantity has fallen to about 80 vessels, in accordance with Congolese authorities.

Dziengue mentioned that authorities lack the means to implement legal guidelines to forestall overfishing by industrial trawlers. “The authorities have only one patrol boat for the entire coast,” he added.

According to a current examine revealed by Current Biology, one-third of the world’s shark and ray species are vulnerable to extinction on account of overfishing and the variety of species of sharks and rays going through “global extinction crisis” doubled in a decade.

Senegalese shark biologist Mika Samba Diop advised Al Jazeera that sharks had been starting to disappear from African seas wherein they had been beforehand frequent.

“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 mentioned.