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Common sharks & rays of Trinidad

By Kelly Kingon, David Portnoy, 6th July 2023

Check out the most common sharks that we are catching around Trinidad! Interestingly the two smallest coastal species we have here, the Brazilian sharpnose shark (Rhizoprionodon lalandii) that only reaches 80 cm in length, and the smalleye smoothhound (Mustelus higmani), which is even smaller, topping out at 64 cm are now the most commonly caught sharks, at least during our surveys using longlines with moderately sized hooks. Juveniles of other medium-sized and larger coastal sharks are less common. All but the two rays of our most frequently caught species are listed as threatened by the IUCN Red List.

We see similar patterns in the sharks encountered at the landing sites around Trinidad with the smaller genera, Mustelus and Rhizoprionodon (sharpnose sharks and smoothhounds) dominating the catch. These two groups are followed by three critically endangered species the scalloped hammerhead, Sphyrna lewini, golden hammerhead, Sphyrna tudes and smalltail shark, Carcharhinus porosus. Rays are rarely landed and sold in the fish markets but are likely caught by locals as bycatch and potentially killed out of fear, and they may be harvested by Venezuelans who do have a taste for them. If you are eating or fishing for sharks in Trinidad it is highly likely you are consuming or catching species that are threatened with extinction.

Most of the shark catch landed in the markets comes from gillnets and thus it seems that gear type is much more effective for catching scalloped hammerheads, our species of interest. We had originally hesitated to use gill nets as scalloped hammerheads can die quite quickly when caught, but we discovered this happens with the longline as well. The key seems to be very short soak times for whatever gear type is used to ensure they can be released. We intend to try a gillnet moving forward that is short in length and soaked for a limited time to hopefully catch and tag more!

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