What’s a Shark Worth?

What’s a Shark Worth?

As I climbed into a metal underwater cage, the water icy cold with no visibility, I wondered if I had lost my mind. I was in the water, off the side of a boat, along the coast of South Africa, waiting for Great White Sharks to appear.

The first shark passed within centimeters of me, was at least 13 feet long and had a mouth full of razor sharp teeth. It was as if a dinosaur had swam in from of me.

Photo Jake Kheel

Sharks suffer from some of the worst public relations of any animal. Despite their myriad contributions to the health of the oceans, the remote likelihood that a shark attacks a human being, and the fact that they have survived for millennia, today sharks are one of the most threatened marine species on the planet.

Graphic by sharkbusiness.org

Scientists estimate that 100 million sharks are killed by human beings a year, primarily for the Asian shark fin market. This estimate is considered conservative by many and could reach as many as 270 million sharks a year. Though sharks are reported to attack a mere 11 human beings a year, some 11,400 sharks are killed per hour.

This is not just a crime against sharks and catastrophic ecological disruption, it is a huge missed economic opportunity. Shark tourism in the Caribbean, similar to Great White Shark excursions in South Africa and other sites, have a huge economic potential.

In 2011, the Bahamas completely outlawed the capture of all shark species in their territorial waters. With a stable population of sharks, the Bahamas has developed a dynamic shark tourism industry. In one recent study, 19,000 divers visited the country just to see sharks, contributing $109 million dollars to the local economy. Globally, in 2013 shark tourism accounted for a reported $314 million dollars in tourism economy, an amount that has undoubtedly increased.

In June 2017, the Dominican Ministry of Environment, influenced by the businessman Sir Richard Branson, declared a complete ban on the capture of several species, including the capture of sharks and rays. This measure is historic for the conservation of the Dominican seas.

Clearly, whether this measure succeeds will depend as much on the commitment of Dominican society as on the capacity of the Ministry of Environment to enforce it. The public and private sectors, environmental and community groups, associations and unions, and all Dominican citizens will ultimately determine the success of the new law.

Compliance with existing fishing restrictions and seasons, such as lobster, conch, and crab, is spotty, at best. CODOPESCA, the entity formally charged with protecting fisheries, is mostly ineffective and widely considered compromised by payments and charges of corruption. The Ministry of Environment, while good intentioned, has limited resources and personnel. It simply does not have the manpower to implement existing fishing laws, much less new ones.

However, despite the challenges it faces, the new law is significant. Though it represents a primarily symbolic act, it signals a positive change within the Ministry of Environment towards best practices from other countries. The law also demonstrates that the Dominican Republic is forming its policy based on sound science. Additionally, it prioritizes a species with a high ecological and economic value, particularly to the tourism industry.

The tourism industry is not typically fond of supporting a universally feared (and misunderstood) specie, such as shark. But the industry and its leaders should abandon the antiquated idea that sharks represent a threat to tourism. As has been demonstrated right here in the Caribbean, the value of a living shark is far greater than a dead shark.

Graphic by sharkbusiness.org

Later this year, following the thrill of getting in the water with Great Water Sharks, I am planning to visit the Bahamas, twice, and will make it a priority to dive with sharks on both visits. I am not only fascinated by these creatures, but also want to send a positive signal as a consumer that sharks are valuable assets to the economy of the Caribbean.





Photo Jake Kheel

Comments (2)

Great piece, will share. You should visit Belize as well, if you haven’t already, especially during the whale shark season (I recommend Splash Dive Center). A big plus in Belize’s tourism.

Cage diving with sharks is by far one of the most awesome things I´ve done in my life and it´s great to know that the business model can be integrated with our tourism industry. Definitely a great articile and project, let me know if you ever need help, I´m a fan of sharks and educating the public about all their benefits in order to decrease the bad rep they get due to popular culture.

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