Friday, July 03, 2009

Three sharks caught off the Malta coast were mistaken as Great White sharks

Three sharks which Maltese fishermen recently caught close to the island were wrongly described as great whites even if they were the much smaller and less infamous short-fin makos.

Inspectors from the Malta Environment and Planning Authority investigated claims about the catch and found it was not the case, a Mepa spokesman said.

Besides the effect the report could have on bathers and tourists wanting to visit the islands given the bad reputation these marine predators have been given, catching great whites is illegal because the species is protected.

The reports originated from a chain e-mail, which spoke of great whites having been caught but actually carrying an image of a Mako caught four years ago, shark enthusiast Alex "Sharkman" Buttigieg, said.

The last great white catch recorded in Malta was the much-publicised female that was fished in 1987 by Alfredo Cutajar.

Sharks rarely swam into Maltese waters and, when they did, they generally did not approach the shore, Mr Buttigieg said.

He pointed out that, although all shark populations in the Mediterranean were dwindling due to over fishing, the mako was not protected. Other sharks, like the angle, were in much more immediate need of protection.

In fact, Shark Alliance, a coalition of non-governmental organisations dedicated to science-based conservation of sharks, which Mr Buttigieg forms part of, was lobbying for better protection at EU level.

Earlier this year the EU announced a plan of action for the conservation and management of sharks. The plan protects sharks from finning, the practice of killing sharks for their fins, which are used for an oriental soup. Although there was no finning in Malta, there was no guarantee that there would never be, Mr Buttigieg said.

Shark fishing has been growing rapidly since the mid-1980s, mainly driven by expanding demand from Asian markets. Between 1984 and 2004 world catches of sharks grew from 600,000 to over 810,000 metric tonnes annually. The EU fleet now takes about 100,000 tonnes of sharks and related species each year.


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