The popular Yarmouth Shark Scramble is a no-go this year, due to changes in scientific requirements for sampling by Fisheries and Oceans Canada.
“In previous years, Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) has authorized shark tournaments through the issuance of scientific licences under section 52 of the Fishery General Regulations as a way to support the Department’s science requirements,” says Lauren Sankey, DFO spokesperson. “However, the Department’s research program no longer requires new sampling through this licence and we communicated this to shark tournament organizers and other stakeholders last year.”
Sankey said DFO provided shark tournament organizers three alternative options for holding authorized shark derbies:
- tournaments authorized through the issuance of a recreational licence that permits catch and release, which would allow tagging, but not landing;
- tournaments authorized through the issuance of a recreational licence that permits retention, which requires human consumption of the catch in order to avoid waste; and
- tournaments authorized through the issuance of a scientific licence, with the support of another organization (or DFO in the future, as needed) that requests scientific study of a shark, that would require the shark to be landed in circumstances outside commercial fishery bycatch.
“The decision to proceed or not with any of these options and the request for any applicable required license rests with shark tournament organizers,” said Sankey.
Founder of the Yarmouth Shark Scramble, Bob Gavel, said he and other organizers were surprised and disappointed with the change in direction.
Gavel said he has been asked by quite a few people about this year’s scramble “and all of them are very upset that it isn’t being held this year and may be done for good. Besides it being a well-attended event every year by both locals and tourists from around the world, it also generated a lot of revenue for the town and businesses. The tournament has been going since 1998, 24 years. It was educational and watched by thousands of spectators, local and far away.”
Originally the scramble was approved by a shark recreational fishing license, but then switched to a scientific license for shark research, said Gavel.
“Over the years a lot of data has been collected, and hundreds of sharks have been tagged to bring further information for years to come. We only land between 40 to 50 sharks during our tournament, and these sharks are far from endangered. With thousands of blue sharks being discarded by other commercial fishermen around the world, we are only a drop in the bucket.”
Gavel said requiring tournament organizers to sell and have the sharks go for human consumption or they can’t be landed is questionable.
“If you research blue sharks, they are not even recommended to eat due to mercury levels. They have eliminated sharks from the tournaments which could be sold or gone for human consumption such as the mako and porbeagle sharks, saying they are endangered.”
Ironically, “there is no directed commercial blue shark fishery in Canada and they are not landed for human consumption,” said Sankey. “Blue sharks may be caught as a bycatch in the bluefin tuna and swordfish pelagic longline commercial fisheries and can be landed as per licence conditions, however, landings are low. A recreational shark fishery does exist on the east coast, but it is catch and release only.”
Blue sharks are designated “Not at Risk” by the Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC).