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Red Sea Sharks: A Worrisome Status

Shark fishing and finning are still common practices in the Red Sea. Researcher Julia Spät, of the Red Sea Research Centre of the King Abdullah University in Jeddah, conducts a research project about the status of sharks in the Red Sea.

Julia Spät during a presentation about Red Sea shark research (© Peter Verhoog, Dutch Shark Society)

The numbers of sharks in this sea are rapidly declining, and given the global concern about the status of elasmobranch fishes, the fact there is so little information on elasmobranchs in the Red Sea is worrisome. Management of elasmobranchs in areas other than the Red Sea has been helped by research on population ecology, reproductive biology and resource partitioning, subjects that are virtually absent in the Red Sea elasmobranch literature. Julia’s review (co-authors S. R. Thorrold and M. L. Berumen)  provided the first comprehensive summary of elasmobranch biology in the Red Sea with the aim of facilitating research in a region that remains remarkably under-studied waters.  Julia found surprisingly low numbers of sharks in the water. She used BRUVs (Baited remote underwater video surveys were developed in Australia, and are now used around the world for a variety of projects. By attracting fish into the field of view of a remotely-controlled camera, the technique records diversity, abundance and behaviour of species), long-line sampling, and market survey data with information from ongoing shark tagging and genetic studies. BRUVS in Saudi Arabian inshore and offshore reefs, in conjunction with long-line surveys, revealed a dramatic lack of reef-associated sharks. Catch per unit effort for Saudi Arabian Red Sea BRUVS ranges between 10 – 60 times lower than data available for the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Ocean. Despite this, relatively large quantities of reef-associated and pelagic sharks could be found in the fish markets in the region, suggesting heavy fishing pressure on existing populations.

Urgently needed management of shark populations is being hampered by the  paucity of available information on almost all aspects of Red Sea elasmobranch biology, ecology, and population dynamics. The collected data will help the establishment of a baseline on the current status of Red Sea shark populations, serving as a foundation for future studies on these historically overlooked stocks. This research is ongoing.

Watch the following video clip to see a BRUV in action!

 

 

 

 

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