A recently conducted Nature Foundation Research Project has shown that sharks are still being taken in the waters surrounding St. Maarten despite a ban on the intentional capture and harming of sharks and patrols executed to combat illegal poaching. In 2012 there were 4 incidents of sharks being harmed or killed in the waters surrounding St. Maarten, two of which occurred in the Man of War Shoal Marine Park.
The practice of intentionally fishing for sharks has been forbidden since October 12th 2011, when the Ministry TEATT banned the practice of intentionally poaching sharks in the territorial waters of St. Maarten. The act of trying to catch by tracking, stalking, baiting, chasing, trapping, hooking, netting, shooting or otherwise hunting – sharks, rays and skates is prohibited and therefore the animals may not be wounded, caught, landed, or killed. Violators may be punished with jail and a considerable fine may be issued. If Sharks are accidentally caught all steps should be taken to release the animal with as little harm as possible.
The Nature Foundation Report is part of a wider Shark Research Project being conducted on St. Maarten which, based on surveys of dive operators and tourist divers, has shown that a single live shark is worth up to USD $884,000 to the economy of the island, as is opposed to just a few dollars dead. "The majority of divers who come to the island pay top dollar to see sharks in their Natural Environment. These divers also rent cars, stay in hotels, eat at restaurants and drink in bars. Taking all of that into account and based on research conducted by the Nature Foundation a single live shark contributes $884,000 to the economy of St. Maarten annually. Sharks are an apex predator and are essential to the health of local coral reefs. If we do not have sharks we will lose our coral reef ecosystem. Sharks keep the reefs clean of unhealthy fish which in turn keeps the ecosystem in balance," said a Statement from the Nature Foundation.
The Nature Foundation and Dive Operators have also been introducing the invasive Lionfish to sharks in the hope that the animals will control the poisonous fish. "The reputation of sharks as blood thirsty creatures is largely exaggerated by sensationalist reports. Countries all over the world have recognized the importance of these animals and here on St. Maarten we will continue to put Shark Conservation as a top priority," concluded the Nature Foundation Report.