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MEPS prepress abstract   -  DOI:

Anthropogenic pressures on reef-associated sharks in jurisdictions with and without directed shark fishing

Gina M. Clementi*, Elizabeth A. Babcock, Jasmine Valentin-Albanese, Mark E. Bond, Kathryn I. Flowers, Michael R. Heithaus, Elizabeth R. Whitman, Maurits P. M. Van Zinnicq Bergmann, Tristan L. Guttridge, Owen R. O’Shea, Oliver N. Shipley, Edward J. Brooks, Steven T. Kessel, Demian D. Chapman

*Corresponding author:

ABSTRACT: Sharks are depleted across the Caribbean region, with negative associations between shark abundance and human population density, open access to fishing, and proximity to large markets (“market gravity”). This is frequently attributed to fishing mortality, which increases closer to humans and outside marine reserves. Although it is difficult to disentangle the effects of fishing mortality from other anthropogenic pressures on sharks, comparing shark abundance and diversity in jurisdictions with near zero fishing mortality versus prevalent shark fishing can demonstrate the role of overfishing. We used baited remote underwater video systems to compare shark abundance and diversity on coral reefs in two Caribbean nations with contrasting levels of shark exploitation: Belize (shark fishing) and The Bahamas (shark sanctuary). The abundance of targeted shark species and diversity were significantly higher in The Bahamas than in Belize. Caribbean reef and nurse shark abundance in Belize were best predicted by fishing-related factors (marine reserves, market gravity, their interaction). In The Bahamas abiotic factors (depth, sea surface temperature) best predicted nurse shark abundance while depth, market gravity and its interaction with marine reserves predicted Caribbean reef shark abundance. These results indicate that fishing mortality reduces shark abundance and diversity in Belize, while lower fishing mortality in The Bahamas has greatly reduced but not eliminated human impacts on sharks. Future work should elucidate the indirect effects of humans to develop holistic shark conservation plans. We suggest minimizing shark fishing through multinational management plans to improve shark abundance and diversity, especially on reefs near densely populated areas.