TAIPEI (Taiwan News) — Six rare megamouth sharks (Megachasma pelagios) were caught off the coast of eastern Taiwan last week, sparking calls by conservationists to impose a ban on the fishing of the mysterious creatures.
Between June 15 and June 18, fishermen using drift nets caught six megamouth sharks off the coast of Hualien County, reported UDN. The sharks weighed as much as 1,000 kilograms and were about four meters in length.
Conservation groups have called for a ban on the fishing of megamouth sharks to protect them from extinction. Hualien fishermen say the price of giant mouth sharks is not particularly high and deny that they are targeting them when fishing, only that they are found dead after getting caught in their nets, and noting that all of them are reported in accordance with regulations.
Megamouth caught off coast of eastern Taiwan. (Coast Guard Administration photo)
In 2013, the Fisheries Agency began requiring fishing vessels to report the capture of megamouth sharks and retain the whole carcass for 24 hours for scientific sampling and biological data collection. From 2013 until now, there have been 136 reported catches.
With the exception of two caught off the coast of Yilan County, the rest were all caught by drift net fishing boats off of Hualien. Eight have been caught so far this year, seven of which have been captured by the same fishing boat.
The Environment and Animal Society of Taiwan on June 18 launched a campaign to protect the sharks called "Don't let the megamouth sharks go extinct" (別讓巨口鯊滅絕). The group claims that the government is looking the other way as fishermen continue to poach the massive sharks.
Megamouth caught on June 15. (Environment and Animal Society of Taiwan photo)
It also called on the Ocean Affairs Council and the Fisheries Agency to address the issue and stop allowing fishing boats to catch the sharks indiscriminately. Instead of what they are claiming is bycatch, the group alleges that fishermen are intentionally targeting the rare species.
Since 1976, there have only been about 226 sightings of the obscure shark, most of which were cases of capture by fishermen. The majority of sightings have occurred along the Kuroshio Current, with 145 captured off of Taiwan, accounting for 64 percent of total catches reported in the world.