Shark derbies in Nova Scotia are drawing flak from animal rights groups, who are particularly concerned about the future of the blue shark population. The derbies are popular, offer cash prizes and draw large crowds to see the winners and the size of their catch. Last summer, anglers in five derbies throughout the province landed 263 of the big fish, mostly blue sharks.
But animal rights supporters argue the federally sanctioned shark derbies -- the only time anglers can land the massive fish in Nova Scotia -- are cruel and are contributing to the stock decline. The Nova Scotia Humane Society leads a campaign against the derbies every year. The Society says it's not like blue sharks are reproducing like fruit flies, and adds that this is a population that cannot withstand a lot of exploitation.
But Steven Campana of the Halifax-area Bedford Institute of Oceanography says the derbies represent only three per cent of all blue shark catches in Canadian waters, and an even smaller percentage of the total North Atlantic catch. "From a scientific point of view, the derbies are having no detectable impact and we are getting some very useful information to monitor the blue shark population," he says. The blue shark, easily recognized by its slim body and deep indigo colouring, has little commercial value. Millions swim throughout the waters of the North Atlantic, feeding on fish and squid.
Sport fishing for sharks is usually only allowed if the fish are released, but the derbies are an exception. Information collected at the derbies, along with bycatch data from commercial fisheries, suggested shark stocks have been declining five per cent each year.