Commercial fishers in New Zealand (Aotearoa) have been intentionally maiming and killing sharks to retrieve fishing gear, according to newly released reports.
The documents – released under the Official Information Act – were penned by government observers who worked on a number of New Zealand’s commercial longline fleets between 2016 and 2021.
They described seeing fishers aggressively handling sharks who had become entangled in fishing gear accidentally.
Observers claimed to have witnessed fishers throwing sharks, swinging them by their tails, and “cutting the jaws through to the gills and guts” to retrieve hooks – some of which cost as little as $1.
One document revealed that after cutting the jaws off the animals, fishers threw the sharks overboard while they were still alive, but mangled.
A separate report indicated that a skipper had encouraged their crew to slaughter as many blue sharks as possible to “reduce the population size.” This is despite the fact that blue sharks are included on the IUCN’s Red List of Threatened Species, where they are considered Near Threatened with a decreasing global population, namely due to overfishing and shark finning.
Laws Lawson, chief executive of Fisheries Inshore New Zealand, was “appalled” by the findings.
“While I can understand the frustration of the fishers in incidentally catching a shark that is not wanted, nothing justifies such inhumane and callous action,” Lawson said in a statement.
Geoff Keey, spokesperson at the Royal Forest and Bird Protection Society of New Zealand or Forest & Bird, shared a similar outlook. Keey named the findings “horrific” and called on the Minister of Oceans and Fisheries to ban the practice.
A petition addressed to the minister, as well as Aotearoa’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, called for a “strong plan” to better protect sharks.
Specifically, the petition urges that an observer and/or camera must monitor all commercial fishing vessels. And, calls for a reduction in the bycatch or retention targets of threatened and endangered sharks to zero percent.
Lastly, it states that sharks and other bycatch must be released “with as little harm as possible.”
At the time of writing, the petition had collected nearly 27,000 signatures. Those interested in viewing or signing it can do so here.