Potential for Unintended consequences in an Ecuadorian hook exchange program
The central question of this case study asks if circle hook use in Ecuador is motivated by a desire to catch more sharks. Circle hooks are a conservation technology that limits the by-catch of sea turtles. In 2004, the World Wildlife Fund, the Inter American Tropical Tuna Commission, (IATTC) and the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration spearheaded a hook exchange project in the Ecuadorian pelagic longline fishery. Widely used j-hooks were voluntarily exchanged for circle hooks. Volunteers also accepted observers on board. During observation circle hooks were found to increase the capture of sharks. Trade in shark fins is highly lucrative. The promotion of a hook that can capture more sharks may lead to an unintended consequence - increases in the targeting and capturing of sharks. Ecuadorian law allows only the incidental capture of sharks. Qualitative analysis of semi-structured interviews with hook promoters, IATTC biologist, and Ecuadorian fishery leaders, indicate that hooks may be related to an increase in the landings of shark, especially to supply the market for fins. Survey work was conducted in 6 sites along the Ecuadorian coastline. A majority of boat owners, captains, and deckhands (71%) self-nominated sharks as a target catch. Those familiar with circle hooks indicated that the use of the hooks was not relegated to only the conservation of turtles - captains (41%) and owners (37%) preferred circle hooks for their ability to capture shark. There was no significant difference in self nominated shark capture between users of circle hooks (78%) and j-hooks (74%). Further study is required: an assessment on the affects of harvesting sharks on shark populations, and an analysis of regulations meant to create a more sustainable shark fishery.