Fishermen operating off the coast of Hualien County on Taiwan’s east coast caught six megamouth sharks between June 15 – 18, raising the concerns of environmental groups, who are calling for protection of the mysterious species.
The megamouth shark ( Megachasma pelagios ) was first discovered by scientists in 1976, and named in 1983. According to scientific papers, including this one, only around 100 specimens have been observed or caught as of 2018.
When the megamouth sharks are caught it’s usually as bycatch, most of the sources agree.
However, according to Taiwan’s Environmental Information Center, 226 catches have been recorded globally, of which 146, or more than 60%, were recorded in Taiwan.
Taiwan’s Fisheries Agency confirms the figures regarding the number of recorded catches in Taiwan. According to Fisheries Agency data reported in United Daily News, 136 megamouth captures have been recorded since a compulsory notification system was instituted in 2013. With the exception of two specimens caught off the coast of Yilan County, the rest were caught by drift nets off the coast of Hualien.
Under the compulsory notification system, fishermen bringing up megamouth sharks in their nets, dead or alive, are required to notify the authorities, and keep the specimen for 24 hours so samples and bio-data can be collected. [Correction: previously reported live specimens required to be released.]
According to fisheries data, eight megamouth sharks have been caught off the coast of Taiwan so far this year, and seven of the sharks were caught by the same boat, United Daily News reported.
Research carried out by Taiwan’s Ocean conservation administration described the species as slow-growing, having late sexual maturity, and small litter sizes.
While the megamouth is not listed as a threatened species in global conservation indices, ocean advocacy NGO Oceana notes that the megamouth shark is “likely naturally very rare, but scientists do not believe that they have sufficient knowledge of the species to determine its conservation status.”
“Don’t let the megamouth shark go extinct!” cries an article on the Environment & Animal Society of Taiwan (EAST) website. Claiming that the government is allowing fishers to indiscriminately catch the species.
Both EAST and the Environmental Information Center reports are suggesting that the megamouth is not being brought up merely as bycatch, but are being targeted by certain fishing operators.
The groups are calling on government agencies to protect the marine animals by restricting fishing according to the area where they are known to be vulnerable on a seasonal basis.
The Environmental Information Center points to research by the Ocean Conservation Administration that shows megamouth sharks migrate south to north with the Kuroshio current between April to August to feed on North Pacific krill.
The migration path brings the species close to the east coast of Taiwan, making them vulnerable as they pass through the Hualien drift gill net fishery.
EAST points out that with the data gathered since 2013, the Fisheries Agency knows the hot spots in terms of locations and time of the year the species is vulnerable to being netted. Restrictions should be place accordingly in order to protect the species.
See previous story: Rare megamouth shark caught off Taiwan’s east coast
Cover Picture: Fisheries Agency via Environmental Information Center.
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