The temperature is cooling down within the fish market in Monastir, Tunisia. Nonetheless, the suffocating scent of the fish guts which have sat by the total power of the day’s warmth hangs heavy within the air. The stallholders have left now, however on the ground amid the detritus is the unmistakable form of a severed shark’s head.
Close by, in a skip, the our bodies of two guitarfish rays lie discarded, stripped of meat to the cartilage.
Tunisia’s sharks are as various as they’re lovely, encompassing every thing from the 680kg nice white caught off Zarzis close to the border with Libya two years in the past, to the minuscule dogfish, which hunt the seabed for crustaceans. All have a significant position in sustaining Tunisia’s finely balanced marine ecosystem. However, Tunisia is considered the second largest fisher of sharks throughout the Mediterranean, second solely to Libya.
“There are 63 various kinds of shark and ray in Tunisian waters,” says Jamel Jrijer, a marine programme supervisor with the World Extensive Fund for Nature (WWF). “Twenty-four of these are endangered. As an apex predator, sharks have a crucial position in protecting different species numbers down. With out them, the numbers of different fish might explode and the entire steadiness of the marine ecosystem may very well be destroyed.”
The guitarfish, he says, can solely be discovered within the waters off Tunisia. Likewise, researchers have additionally grow to be conscious of juvenile nice whites swimming within the Mediterranean, suggesting a doable breeding floor and probably making the world probably the most treasured stretches of water on this planet.
However lax enforcement, a lack of expertise amongst Tunisian fishers, and the ever-increasing competitors amongst fishing boats for a shrinking variety of fish are conspiring to threaten one of many sea’s most significant species.
A lot of Tunisia’s sharks, together with the nice white, are protected and their seize prohibited. All others have to be reported to the fishing guards – authorities officers who oversee the nation’s ports. However neither fisher or fishing guard are skilled in distinguishing the generally refined variations between species.
“Sharks usually get caught in nets and drown, in order that they’re lifeless after they’re introduced on board,” Jrijer says. “Others are being intentionally focused by fishers. Both approach, as soon as they’re on board, they’re lower up and their guts thrown overboard, making their our bodies nearly unimaginable to establish.” This exacerbates the challenges in growing a fuller image of what’s going on underneath the ocean’s floor and the place assets have to be focused.
Regardless of the final reported assault going down within the 1920s, the notion amongst each fishers and the general public is of the shark as a man-eater. Photographs of blunt-nosed sharks, landed on the northern fishing port of Kelibia in the summertime of 2019, had been sufficient to immediate panic amongst vacationers and locals.
“Throughout spring, we go fishing nearly each day,” says Sassi Alaya from the southern port of Gabès. “We caught sharks previously, and we nonetheless do. We name them ‘sea canines’. There are three varieties: the blue shark, the white shark and the brown one. They will weigh from 1kg to 30kg. However the ones we catch normally weigh between 5kg and 10kg.
“We promote the sharks to retailers [at the market]. We clear them first, throw their insides within the sea, and promote them. All fishermen do the identical factor.”
In northern Tunisia, the worth of shark meat is alleged to have risen from three to 4 dinars (about £1) per kg to between 12 and 13 dinars as its reputation has grown. In some locations, such because the market at Monastir, shark meat is commonly handed off as swordfish. Partly because of this, the WWF consider there are actually about 35 fishers in Tunisia particularly fishing for sharks. “I solely began catching sharks seven years in the past,” Alaya says. “I didn’t used to have the appropriate internet earlier than that. There’s a particular one for fishing sharks. It’s known as ‘gattatiya’.
“Catching sharks isn’t unlawful. If it had been so, we wouldn’t be promoting them publicly. So there was by no means a warning or any form of ban placed on the fishing of sharks.”
With Tunisia’s economic system battered by the coronavirus pandemic and usually anticipated to bear its best contraction since gaining independence in 1956, it’s unclear the place defending its native marine species sits throughout the authorities’s priorities. Emails, cellphone calls and a fax from the Guardian to the ministry of agriculture, which has accountability for fisheries and aquaculture, acquired no response. However the state of affairs might not be utterly hopeless.
In Tabarka, within the nation’s far north, Imed Triki has been going out to sea in his small boat each day to catch what he can. Cash is tight and the income he will get from promoting shark meat to the middlemen on the market goes a protracted solution to sustaining his nets and boat.
No person ever got here to Tabarka to debate the significance of sharks to any of the port’s small fishers, Triki says. “We heard of the matter by Fb and associations,” he says. “Not all of us are conscious of the problem, in fact. We’re doing our greatest to boost consciousness. It’s true that many fishermen should not very eager on preserving endangered species as a result of they should earn their livelihood and feed their households.
“However after they discover assist from their fellow fishermen, they grow to be cooperative themselves. We’re attempting to cut back the fishing of all endangered species. Sea turtles, sharks, something that’s endangered.”