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Taking the road less traveled Spending a year in five continents to embrace my "inner turtle", to live simply, and to avoid being shark bait!

My Grimmest Day in Tofo

MOZAMBIQUE | Tuesday, 15 May 2012 | Views [914]

Never have I felt so compelled and with a sense of urgency to share an experience as now.  I have just witnessed the sad but true reality of life in Tofo:  fishermen who targeted sharks and rays and were successful, and the corpses and mutilated bodies of their catch.

On our way to the dive site this morning, we passed a small fishing boat with two fishermen and their net; inside the net was a small shark, which we could tell from a distant because of its dorsal fin.  What should have been a nice boat ride to the dive site was made dim by this unfortunate sighting.

We finished the dive (which was still nice, several scorpion fish, two honeycomb moray eels mating, and a mobula (devil) ray that circled beneath us as we ascended to our safety stop).  When the dive was finished, we headed back and en route we encountered a playful pod of bottlenose dolphins, always a treat.  As we beached the boat, there was a sense of "excitement" in the air, and we immediately saw what it was:  a small shark (just over 1 meter) and a mobula ray being dragged up the beach to the market.  Steve, one of the owners of the dive shop and was on the boat with us, was livid and started walking towards the market, and we all followed. 

I have seen photos of hacked up sharks with their fins gone before, but they did not prepare me for the scene at the market:  a large stack of white tip reef sharks, a bowmouth guitar ray (which looks like a shark and a ray fused together), several mobula rays, and what looked like a leopard shark, all probably still juveniles.  All the fins have been hacked off, and now the rest will be sold as meat.  Everyone (locals, tourists) gathered around to "admire" or (like me) be disgusted by the sight.  My first thought is not too far in the future, those fins will end up in somebody's shark fin soup in (most likely) mainland China, and many Tofo families will dine on the shark and ray meat and be poisoned with mercury.  Not exactly a win-win situation in my opinion.

I understand this catch represents a lot of money for the fishermen; the fins alone will generate hundreds of times of money than a regular catch of tunas and snappers, and the meat will feed numerous local families for days.  I'm not critizing their livelihood; they are fishermen and their job is to fish.  What I am judging is this type of fishing is not sustainable.  They do not understand that sharks and rays cannot reproduce fast enough to replenish the population, and at the rate they are being fished, most of the species will be extinct in just three generations; furthermore, they don't comprehend that a living ray or shark will generate many times more income than a dead one, mainly in the form of tourism in Tofo (although tourism also needs to be regulated, cannot have dozens of ocean safari boats out at once to spot whale sharks).  But I get it, I get that when a fisherman wakes up in the morning, he's thinking of making that "big catch", the one that will bring in lots of money so he doesn't have to work for weeks, and that money, sadly, comes in the form of shark fins and manta ray gill rackers, money that the Chinese have loads of and want to flaunt.

Which goes back to why organizations like All Out Africa, Marine Megafauna Foundation, and volunteers like myself are here; we want to work with the local community and educate them on "cause and effect" (no, sharks aren't disappearing because there are more scuba divers and sharks don't like bubbles; they are disappearing because fishermen are literally fishing them to death), help them understand what sustainable fishing is, and understand that with robust and regulated tourism in Tofo, it's many times better to have a living ray or shark than a dead one.

Sorry for the rambling and "preach-like" tone, but this goes into the core of my passion, my belief, and my journey here.  Thanks for reading.

Tags: manta ray gill racker, shark fin, shark fin soup, sustainable fishing, tofo, tourism

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