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Activists concerned over Sidon ‘shark hunter’

Wehbi proudly displays his catch of sharks in Sidon. (The Daily Star/Mohammad Zaatari)

SIDON/BEIRUT: Activists voiced environmental and health concerns Sunday, after a Sidon fisherman, dubbed the “shark hunter” caught 12 sharks over the past two weeks.

“[Catching] 20 sharks a year is not the end of the world, but here in Lebanon things do tend to [become] a trend,” warned Imad Saoud, a professor of marine biology at AUB.

Meanwhile, Mahmoud Wehbi, the fisherman in question, was proud as he weighed and measured his “big catch,” saying he caught them at a secret spot off the coast just south of Beirut.

“The first time I caught one I was on the fishing boat with my three children when suddenly the boat started shaking and I immediately threw the net,” Wehbi told The Daily Star.

Since then, Wehbi sought to sail to the same location near the Rmeileh coast, south of Beirut, to test his luck in the waters. So far, he has caught 12 sharks in 15 days, he said.

Several sharks weighed some 250 kilograms each and the others were a little above 100 kilograms.

“These types of sharks, called dogs of the sea in Lebanon, travel in packs. Each family is comprised of five sharks and the parents always weigh the most,” Wehbi said.

At the fish market in Sidon, Wehbi’s stand was by far the most crowded with people buying one kilogram of the white meat for LL5,000 to prepare fish kibbeh, a popular local dish.

“I will sell the rest to restaurants in Beirut,” Wehbi said.

Gloating over his catch, Wehbi refused to specify the exact location, preferring to keep it a secret.

Environmentalist Sana Tawileh, however, was not amused by Wehbi’s crowing. “Hunting sharks is not good for the ecosystem,” she said. “And second, not all shark meat is good to eat. It can sometimes be very high in mercury content.”

Today, however, the shark population is under little threat from Lebanese fishermen, said Mohamed al-Sarji, president of the Lebanese Union of Professional Divers and a maritime legal expert. “We don’t have an industry for fishing sharks here,” Sarji added.

“We don’t really object if fishermen get one or two sharks.”

“If he [Wehbi] gets 20 this season, that’s not much at all. It should not cause alarm.”

Still, Sarji said that the use of illegal fishing methods, including dynamite, and overfishing were serious problems in Lebanon, and sharks could come under threat in the future if too many fishermen follow Wehbi’s example. “I worry about the future of sharks in our waters,” he admitted.

Foreign companies rather than local fishermen, Sarji said, could pose an existential threat to Lebanon’s shark populations. “I was approached a couple of years ago by a guy who represented a Japanese man who wanted us to introduce new methods to get sharks for their fins. We were absolutely outraged by this,” he said. “This is slaughter.”

Sharks pose little danger to Lebanese swimmers, Sarji added.

“We don’t have a single recorded shark attack in Lebanese waters,” he said.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on May 05, 2014, on page 4.

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Summary

Activists voiced environmental and health concerns Sunday, after a Sidon fisherman, dubbed the "shark hunter" caught 12 sharks over the past two weeks.

Today, however, the shark population is under little threat from Lebanese fishermen, said Mohamed al-Sarji, president of the Lebanese Union of Professional Divers and a maritime legal expert.

Still, Sarji said that the use of illegal fishing methods, including dynamite, and overfishing were serious problems in Lebanon, and sharks could come under threat in the future if too many fishermen follow Wehbi's example.

Foreign companies rather than local fishermen, Sarji said, could pose an existential threat to Lebanon's shark populations.


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