The mission of the Northwest Shark Preservation Society is to use current research techniques to study various shark species and the interactions they have with their environment; to educate and enlist society in the protection of sharks thereby aiding in the protection of aquatic ecosystems; and to pioneer relationships between the scientific community and the general public.
The current focus of the Northwest Shark Preservation Society is the protection of sharks throughout the Pacific Northwest. By working with state and local agencies, they are attmpting to change fishing regulations to reflect a more sustainable fishing industry. In order to achieve their goal, researchers Greg Harris and Dennis Jones and the rest of the society’s research group work with local commercial and recreational fishermen in Willapa Bay researching several areas of shark ecology.
I caught up recently with Director of Policy Development, Jennifer Brightman to ask her a few questions.
1. What do you see NWSPS's main mission to be ?
A:We are a group of scientists dedicated to the use of education and research to help conservation efforts of sharks through policy. We are great believers in the importance of top predators in the food web to stabilize other populations in marine environments. I would encourage anyone to look us up and say hello on our website: http://www.nwsps.com/
2. What issues do you see as being of top concern with sharks in the Washington state area?
A:The next area of concern is to ensure that research standards are high enough that catch and release research methods don’t cause shark mortality. I think that methods can constantly improve with time and less invasive techniques and instrumentation. It is important that government entities have a good understanding of what those techniques are and try to uphold the best practices when issuing these permits. At this point, I believe our Fish and Wildlife administration is doing a rather good job of that.
3. How would you convince local fishermen of the benefits of a catch and release program for sharks?
A: Well, that is the tricky part, isn’t it? However, I would ask them to consider the shark less as a competitor firstly. I think that is the largest problem; a problem of perception. It has been shown through several studies that top predators actually create a healthier, sturdier population. The fish industry can be a very up and down industry. Stable populations of fish (along with a managed fisheries) would mean a potentially more stable potential for profit.
4. What are your thoughts on possible alternative income generating programs, such as eco-tourism?
A: Eco-tourism is a fantastic alternative, if done correctly. Much like any other industry dealing with a marine setting, there do need to be restrictions and rules for safety for both the participants and the aquatic life involved. This is a bigger, different sandbox that we are playing in and it is important to remember that it is not one that we should go into unprepared. That said, I would love to see more people get involved with the oceans. I think a love for the oceans of the world may be what eventually saves it.
5. Can you update us on the latest developments with efforts to change WA state law regarding catch limits on the sevengill shark?
A: We had a policy that listed certain sharks such as the 7 Gill as a bottom feeder, which meant that no catch limits were placed on these species. Washington State currently has a no catch policy except for research purposes. What that means is actually quite positive for Washington State and elsewhere as long as this law is enforced. It is my hope that this will help stabilize shark populations.
6. And finally, do you have any plans spend any of your programs to California?
A: Personally, I would love to see a catch and release program in place for California. Although shark fins were banned, there are lots of reasons people kill sharks. We can see that right now in Australia. Fear is a great motivator. What I also see is that fear leads to a destructive rather than constructive policy, no matter what that fear is. It would be beneficial to see what kind of knowledge we could gain from sharks about not just sharks, but about the ocean.