Sharks getting a raw deal – on the dark side of Mozambique

This post is part of the Mozambique 2011 series. The previous post in this series is Chicken run to Pomene.

This blog has previously featured shark stories focusing on the large number of big sharks off the South African coast, and the dangers they pose to bathers, surfers and divers. Now it is time to tell the other side of the story, namely the mass killing and exploitation of sharks.

During their recent visit to Pomene (Mozambique), a chance encounter with a group of divers, brought this story brutally home to Willie’s group. During a particularly bad day of big sea swells and poor visibility below the surface of the water, they noticed a couple of determined divers in the water. Later that night they caught up with the divers at the local watering hole. The divers were busy editing footage of sharks which they had filmed that day. The video showed sharks chewing on big hooks attached to long lines i.e. the sharks were deliberately being targeted by long-line fishermen. The divers were part of a group which is filming a documentary on the subject for one of the major television documentary channels.

Film crew setting up at Pomene ©WMB

Film crew examining the sets of shark“jaws” for sale. The teeth sit in rows ready to fold out as the front teeth are lost. ©WMB

I have for some time now been aware of the exploitation of sharks for their products. Mostly for the shark fins which are used for shark fin soup in the East; partly for the meat; with shark jaws being sold to tourists, and individual shark teeth being sold as pendants. However, until I started researching this story, I had no idea how tragic this story is and how much destruction is being wreaked upon the pristine Mozambique coastline.

I found a series of articles on the South African Sunday Times website called “China in Africa” which focuses on Chinese involvement in local African development projects, and the price that is paid for that help. China in Africa Part 3 is about Mozambique, specifically the impact of shark fishing along the Mozambique coast. The whole article by Kevin Bloom & Richard Poplak can be read here, but I wanted to quote some passages to give you an idea of what it is all about. I really urge you to read the full article!

According to the article, shark fishing and finning in Mozambique is carried out by two groups: local fisherman and long-line fishing trawlers operating off-shore. With per kilogram prices for dried shark fin being more than twice the minimum monthly wage, some local Mozambicans fish for sharks to feed the Chinese market.

In 2008, in front of the rustic lodge of Casa Barry, on the southern end of the horseshoe [at Praia do Tofo, Mozambique – South of Pomene], that marine life was slaughtered wholesale.

Shortly after dawn, just as early rising tourists were sipping coffee and preparing for a day in the water, Mozambican fishing boats started coming ashore, discharging local fishermen and their catches. Sea turtles were beheaded, rays lay bloodied on the sand, and sharks – especially sharks – had their fins hacked off and were then chopped into chunks. Shark fins, apparently, were the order of the day.

What the more curious among the visitors knew was that nobody in Mozambique wanted those fins; they’re exclusively a Chinese delicacy.

However, the article goes on to say that it is the long-line fishing trawlers which appear to do the most harm . . .

Pierce [Simon Pierce, a marine biologist, from the Eyes on the Horizon conservation group]  is referring specifically to Inhambane province, one of Mozambique’s principal fisheries, and ground zero for shark finning. He claims there are 700 artisanal boats running out of the area, with all but the tuna fishery unregulated. After dark, the trawlers – mainly Taiwanese and Chinese – that spend the day beyond the horizon, move into sight along the coastline, their blinking lights informing everyone in Tofo that long-line fishing is taking place in the coastal waters.

On these long-line fishing trawlers “Usable fish are dumped into a power freezer, which ices them before they hit the hold. Sharks are finned on the deck, and the rest of the meat chucked into the water.” These long-line trawlers are fishing for sharks illegally. “While Mozambican customs officials have sworn that no licence has been applied for, nor granted, for the export of shark fins, tons of the delicacy leave the country every month.

According to Simon Pierce, between the mid-1960s to the mid-1990s there has been a 92% reduction in the regional shark population. That is a staggering figure!

So how does Pomene feature in the shark fishing story?

 . . . we leave Tofo for Pomene, where in 2003 the local villagers – resentful of the disregard for tribal laws – forced shark fishermen out. Recently, these fishermen have returned, enticed by the presence of Chinese nationals and the burgeoning shark-fin market. There we meet the local chief, Frans Sathane, who confirms that the boats we saw the previous evening were Chinese. He sees them in his waters a few times a week, he says.

The divers that Willie’s group met in Pomene had evidence of this. Willie says “What made this particular footage almost worse was that the long-line seemed to have separated from a boat, and a bunch of dead sharks were lying dead on the see bed creating a surreal seascape of dead wide-eyed sharks.

Normally we humans concentrate so much on not becoming shark bait, that we forget that sharks play an important role in the ecosystem. Sharks are now under serious threat and in South Africa the Great White shark is now on the protected list.

A Tiger shark caught from the boat. The shark was released. ©Theo van Zyl

For a more in-depth article about shark-finning read this Wikipedia article. The site has a lot of links to other shark finning references.

The Mozambique 2011 Series:

Thank you to Theo van Zyl and Willie for allowing me to use their photographs for this post. See individual photos for credits.

A special thank you to Willie for providing the information used to write this post.

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Categories: Lifestyle/Travel, Nature/Environment, Random

Author:lisa@notesfromafrica

I live on the Southern coast of South Africa, and write about the things that interest, amuse or inspire me. You can find me at https://notesfromafrica.wordpress.com and http://southerncape.wordpress.com (my photoblog)

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27 Comments on “Sharks getting a raw deal – on the dark side of Mozambique”

  1. June 12, 2011 at 12:13 pm #

    Wow–this is so sad! And this is an incredibly powerful post. I know from living in Vietnam, just how much the Chinese love shark fin soup. Thanks for helping to share this story of abuse, Lisa!
    Kathy

    • June 13, 2011 at 7:27 am #

      Thanks Kathy! It’s difficult telling a story like this – I found videos online which were quite horrific.What also gets to me is that only the shark fin is used, and the rest of the shark is thrown away. Makes the killing of a living creature even more disgusting.

  2. June 12, 2011 at 12:53 pm #

    I’ve seen a lot about this- sharks thrown over still alive minus fins for shark fin soup. Great post and glad to hear about it from an area where sharks have been demonized as having eaten all the tourists.

    • June 13, 2011 at 7:29 am #

      Do the Japanese also eat shark fin soup?

      I don’t think our sharks discriminate – they eat locals too, not just the tourists! 😉

  3. June 12, 2011 at 12:59 pm #

    Great post. Add China to the (sadly) long list of nations that seem to see Africa mainly as a land to exploit and abuse…

    • June 13, 2011 at 7:32 am #

      Thanks! Yes, unfortunately the immense poverty in Africa, makes us easy targets for those claiming to have our best interests at heart. Help with improving infrastructure and building dams, and help with community projects, inevitably comes with the price tag of signing away mineral and fishing rights etc.

  4. June 12, 2011 at 1:39 pm #

    Thanks for sharing this information, Lisa.
    Sounds like sharks are the rhinos of the sea. It’s all so senseless and shocking.

    • June 13, 2011 at 8:03 am #

      The rhino-shark comparison is a good one. In both cases an animal is killed for a very small part of it. Thanks for reading and commenting on this post!

  5. June 12, 2011 at 2:03 pm #

    It is disgusting that sharks are killed this way, just to supply a delicacy for some people. It is well publicised here in Australia, but it seems nobody can stop the slaughter. Why do people have to bee so cruel?

    • June 13, 2011 at 8:13 am #

      I’m not a big shark fan, but it is cruel how they kill them. I wonder if nobody can stop the slaughter, or whether governments are just not prepared to put resources into policing this issue better? In South Africa we have a huge problem with the exploitation of shellfish like abalone – also intended for the Asian market. There’s now a whole police unit involved in environmental protection.

  6. June 12, 2011 at 2:13 pm #

    Wow…great post about bringing awareness to this issue! Kind of like Iceland’s whaling in a sense, huh. I love your blog! It is so beautifully written and professional. Keep up the great work!

  7. Lu
    June 12, 2011 at 3:07 pm #

    Thanks, Lisa, for highlighting the plight of sharks on the Southern African coastline. They all too often get bad press. At the risk of sounding a tad controversial – perhaps we can be glad that there is a “one-child policy” in China. I can only imagine how much worse the over-fishing and exploitation of resources in general there might be otherwise. As for the methods used – utterly barbaric, senseless and totally unnecessary .

    • June 13, 2011 at 8:16 am #

      That is exactly the point that Willie made. Although he added that with the wealth of the average Chinese person increasing, the number of people who can afford these “delicacies” has also increased.

  8. June 12, 2011 at 4:16 pm #

    Ugh, so sad. I’ve heard shark fins don’t even have much taste.

    • June 13, 2011 at 8:18 am #

      I have read that the shark fins are not used for their taste, but to add gelatinous texture to the soup! The actual taste comes from fish or chicken broth.

  9. June 12, 2011 at 4:39 pm #

    our species are threatened too here … it´s so sad 😦

  10. jacquelincangro
    June 12, 2011 at 6:08 pm #

    Thanks for shedding light on this topic, Lisa. I had no idea that sharks were under such a serious threat. I’ll be reading more about this in the links you posted.

    I found this amazing blog account of a woman who has worked to save the sharks around Mozambique in 2009.
    http://sharkangels.blogspot.com/2009/01/threatening-those-that-threaten.html
    http://www.sharkangels.com/

    • June 13, 2011 at 8:33 am #

      It’s obviously an issue which has been of concern to biologists and environmentalists for a long time, but it really hit home when Willie came back with the stories of the film crew in Mozambique. There are marine biologists (Dr Simon Pierce and his colleagues) who have been living in Mozambique for years trying to change the situation. See http://marinemegafauna.org/about-us/

      Thanks for the links. This issue cannot get too much publicity! Personally though, I would rather give monetary support to an organization such as the World Wildlife Fund with their Adopt-an-animal programme (where the animal is an endangered species – they have about 100 to choose from – which is sad!). I wrote about their Adopt-a-Shark option a while back. See https://notesfromafrica.wordpress.com/2010/09/01/adopt-a-shark/

    • June 20, 2011 at 11:39 am #

      Lisa, this was absolutely horrific reading… as was the article Jacqueline linked to here.

      My stomach turns at the thought of so many thousands and thousands and thousands of sharks and other marine animals that are killed every year. It’s sickening. What makes it all so much worse is that all the fishermen want are the fins and the jaws — throwing away the rest of the animal! If, at the very least, all the animals they catch would be used for food, survival, etc., I could still understand it or have some compassion — but this is such a cruel, senseless, unforgivable waste of precious life!

      I’m appalled that the governments and navies all around Southern Africa have been incapable of putting together a plan to protect our coastal waters – if necessary with force, to eliminate all these foreign-owned fishing vessels that are plundering and exterminating our natural resources. Surely we have a duty of care?!

      Honestly, when I read stories like these, I despair of humankind. We deserve neither the term ‘human’ nor the adjective ‘kind’… we’re barbaric, and the planet would survive far better without us.

      • June 20, 2011 at 6:08 pm #

        Hi Reggie! Thanks for taking the time to read the post and the additional info. I know it doesn’t make for easy reading. I had exactly the same reaction to this story as you did. As you say it is “a cruel, senseless and unforgivable waste”. I guess that with the poverty and other social problems in Southern Africa, protection of the marine resources come way down on the priority list. 😦

      • June 20, 2011 at 6:34 pm #

        Thanks, Lisa. Although reading up on all this left me feeling quite ill, I am grateful that you called attention to these issues by writing about them.

        I’d always known about the KZN nets, for instance, and the devastating effect on the marine environment these have (and, sickeningly, continue to have!), but had never really given it much thought, because it’s so far away from us in the Western Cape. I ended up following the links through cyberspace, as one does, and learning more about it.

        Like here: http://sharkangels.blogspot.com/2009/09/sharks-board-doing-its-civil-duty-to.html. And from there I found some extraordinary videos on Vimeo, such as this one about the Shark Angels and their campaign to have the nets removed in KZN: http://www.vimeo.com/8238428.

        It is good to spread the word on what is happening in our environment, so thank you to you and Willie for doing this.

  11. June 14, 2011 at 4:05 am #

    Very sad! I’m sure there’s something other than shark fins that can be used to thicken up the soup!

  12. Julio Ibanez
    June 15, 2011 at 8:01 pm #

    Great post on an important subject! I’ve been fascinated by sharks since I was young and the devastation on their population by the fishing industries over the past few decades is terrible.

    By the way, I absolutely love this blog! Keep up the good work!

    • June 15, 2011 at 9:59 pm #

      Thank you for reading the post and leaving a comment. It is an important issue. I only hope that educating people about the problem will help to bring some change.

      Thank you also for your kind comments about my blog! 🙂

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