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Carnival without Shark Bake?

Carnival without Shark Bake?

Posted by Shanelle Weir on February 28, 2014

Thousands of Carnival revelers in Trinidad wouldn't think of missing the chance to go to Maracas Beach, the most famous strip of sand on the small Caribbean island off the northeast coast of Venezuela. Beachgoers might not think twice about eating a favorite food called "shark bake" either – at least, until now. But this week, conservationists launched a shark-saving campaign timed to get maximum exposure out of the celebration that will bring throngs of visitors to the island. One attention-getting strategy is to put signs along roads to the beach with messages such as: "Did you eat an endangered species today?" 

The focus of the conservation campaign is shark bake, or "bake and shark," a dish that has become a source of national pride for Trinidad and Tobago. Made with deep-fried shark meat tucked between fried bread rolls and topped with a taste bud-boggling array of sauces, the sandwich is used as an advertising tool for tourism. The island specialty has even been showcased by Andrew Zimmern on the television show "Bizarre Foods America.""Unfortunately this pride is unsustainable," said Marc de Verteuil, a director of the local environmental organization, Papa Dois Conservation. "When consumers buy 'shark' it's never named by species. It is entirely possible that an endangered or CITES-protected shark species is between the bake." 

Sharks are in trouble everywhere. A global analysis of the status of 1,041 species of sharks, rays and chimaeras (ghost sharks) published in eLife last month showed that one-quarter of these species are threatened. And those numbers may not reflect the reality of the situation, according to Nick Dulvy, a shark specialist for the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and one of the contributing researchers. No one even knows exactly how many sharks and rays exist, he noted; there may be as many as 1,150 species described. For almost half of the species in the study – of which 465 were sharks – there wasn't enough data for effective estimation. 

"Often times shark populations were already hammered by the time we got around to start counting them," said Angelo O'Connor Villagomez, manager of global shark conservation for The Pew Charitable Trusts. "The lions and tigers of the ocean are disappearing, and nobody knows about it." 


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