Photos of slaughtered sharks spur DFO investigation in New Brunswick

Steve Mertl
National Affairs Contributor
Daily Brew
Porbeagle sharks are often mistaken for great whites due to their similar body profile.

The Department of Fisheries and Oceans (DFO) is investigating possible poaching after CBC News obtained images of slaughtered porbeagle sharks and other marine species at a weir in Grand Manan, N.B.

According to CBC News, a series of photos and video show fishermen posing on top and alongside of what look like piles of dead porbeagle sharks. The photos also show harbour porpoise and basking shark carcasses.

In one of the videos, a fisherman is seen straddling a dead porbeagle shark and, holding it by the nose, jerking the head and pretending it's laughing while he announces "Bradford's Cove weir" to the camera.

In one shot, a fisherman appears to be slicing a dead shark's fins.

"Shark finning is illegal in Atlantic Canada," DFO conservation officer Ralph MacInnon told CBC News, adding the photo appears to show an illegal activity. "If that is a shark and the fins are being taken off of it in that fashion and it hasn't been landed, it's illegal."

[ Related: Ontario judge rules Toronto's shark fin ban invalid ]

Some of the photos, apparently posted on social networks, are recent but others appear to date back as far as 2010, CBC News reported. The news organization obtained 20 of them before they were suddenly removed from Facebook.

CBC News said it tried unsuccessfully to reach the holder of the fishing licence for Bradford's Cove weir.

Steve Turnbull, a University of New Brunswick marine biologist and shark expert, said porbeagle sharks are unofficially considered as an endangered species while more research is done on their populations.

Nature Canada's profile of the species says porbeagles were plentiful in the northwest Atlantic Ocean until the 1960s, when overfishing drove down population numbers.

Canada allows limited commercial fishing of sharks but only with a specific licence.

Under the Fisheries Act, all animals caught in fishing weirs are considered bycatch and must be returned to the ocean, CBC News said.

"Bycatch situation in a weir is you're supposed to release from the weir in a manner that causes the least amount of harm to the fish or animal," said MacInnon.

Brian Guptill, the president of the Grand Manan Fishermen’s Association, told CBC News weir fishermen don't normally kill bycatch but sometimes releasing them is difficult.

"You try and remove them alive if possible," he said. "But sometimes in the recovery process a snarl will happen and you're not successful.

"The fishermen aren't in it to kill something that they can't make money off of or is bad publicity. It's not a good thing to do."

[ Related: 'Chum Cam' helps catalog endangered sharks ]

A porbeagle's inadvertent encounter with some Newfoundland fishermen last weekend had a happier outcome.

According to the National Post, Fred Humber and two friends set out for a day of cod fishing Saturday in his brother's 20-foot aluminum boat. They'd been out for less than an hour when they snagged something heavy.

As they reeled in their catch, it revealed itself as a two-metre porbeagle, which Humber said looked like a Great White shark.

"We had about a dozen cod in the boat, so we were three shy of our maximum catch — unless you’re Russian or Spanish or Portuguese, then you can vacuum out whatever you want," Humber told the Post.

"Anyway, I dropped the line and as soon as it grabbed hold, I thought, 'Hey, I’ve got the bottom or a log or something.' "

He dropped the line, thinking it would release "and the log — or so I thought — started to move.

"It was such an incredible amount of weight and energy on the line I’ve never experienced anything like it. My nephew jokingly said, 'Do you need any help, Uncle Fred?' But as soon as he grabbed the line, his eyes opened like two saucers — 'What in the name of God is going on there?' "

The shark fought desperately to free itself from the line, Humber said. The three fishermen worried the thrashing shark might pull the boat under.

"But this animal wasn’t angry with us, he was just desperate to stay alive, that’s all."

But unlike the Bradford's Cove sharks' fate, this battle ended in a draw.

The trio opted against cutting the line, which would have left the heavy fishing lure in the shark's mouth.

"We were concerned it could kill him, so my nephew was able to take a filleting knife, gingerly insert it next to the hook and make a small incision," Humber told the Post.

"The shark jerked, freed himself and as we watched him swim off we were absolutely elated."