Dead shark images ignite debate over bycatch rules
Groups offer help, education to fishermen to save trapped marine animals
Multiple dead sharks and other dead marine species found in photos coming from Bradford's Cove weir in Grand Manan has raised a debate on the clarity of rules surrounding what fishermen are supposed to do with bycatch in fishing weirs.
The issue of what to do with bycatch in fishing weirs is clear according the Department of Oceans and Fisheries.
"The bycatch situation in a weir is supposed to be release from the weir in a manner that causes the least harm to the fish," said Jim McKinnon, the department’s acting chief for conservation and protection.
He listed one exception.
"Ten per cent for mackerel, but all other species must be returned," he said.
The fact that any animals are being killed in the Bradford’s Cove weir, especially a porpoise, is a major concern for the Grand Manan Whale and Seabird Research Station, according to an official.
The centre hosts a program designed to free animals caught in weirs without charge.
Fishermen need to call the centre and nets and divers are arranged to go to the weir and rescue the trapped animals.
While the centre focuses mainly on marine mammals, such as harbour porpoises, they have rescued sharks in the past.
Laurie Murison, the executive director of the Grand Manan Whale and Seabird Research Station, said that porpoises should be easy for fishermen to spot in a weir because they need to surface for air every five minutes.
"We developed this program working with the fishermen and showing them that it was possible to get these small marine mammals out of the water and outside the trap," said Murison.
"It's not hard."
While porpoises are relatively easy to remove from weirs, Murison said sharks would be more difficult because they don't need to surface for air.
However, the station does provide nets for getting sharks out of a weir.
Murison said the group has worked hard to make let fishermen know they can use them free of charge.
"The equipment is there, we'll come and help, it's up to the fisherman," Murison said.
Brian Guptill, the president of the Grand Manan Fishermen’s Association, echoed Murison’s sentiments on the difficulties of removing sharks from the weir.
He said sometimes that fishermen don't know what is in the weir until its being the net is closed and being lifted onto the vessel.
"But the average guys are really good about it," said Guptill.
"As long as they know what they’re supposed to have. The [federal] government needs to educate better."
Educating fishermen about what to do with sharks, dolphins, whales and porpoises in their weirs and in all types of fishing is the job of Melanie Sonnenberg, the project manager of the Grand Manan Fishermen's Association.
She said they are doing all they can to make fishermen aware of the rules.
"We've spent a considerable amount of time and resources in our association to make sure that our members understand the changing environment that they're working in and trying to bring these species to the forefront so that everyone can exercise the proper precautions," she said.
She said as far as she's concerned any amount of dead sharks in weirs is an anomaly.
"In the weir industry we're particularly fortunate because if you do catch something, the success rate of releasing something is very good," she said.
"We work so closely with the fishermen and with the Grand Manan Whale and Seabird Station and it’s become amongst our fishermen a culture. That these release programs are just part and parcel of the everyday weir industry." She said the association is "very proud of that track record."
Sonnenberg said that a counter-culture of killing bycatch stands against everything that she and the association stand for.
"That's nothing that we support, or condone. I mean that's what we spend our time and effort against," she said.
After viewing the photos of dead basking and porbeagle sharks, Sonnenberg said that despite her belief that these incidents represent a very small fraction of fishermen mentality, it means that she and the association have more work to do educating people.
Bradford’s Cove Weir is isolated on the southern end of Grand Manan. It lies in isolation, only reachable by boat, all-terrain vehicle or hiking.