SINGAPORE – An abandoned fishing net on Pulau Semakau has caused the deaths of 14 blacktip reef sharks, which are threatened with extinction in Singapore.
Carcasses of the reef fish and other marine life, including what is suspected to be a critically-endangered honeycomb whipray, were discovered ensnared in a 300m-long gill net on Tuesday morning by researchers.
Marine enthusiast Ria Tan, who posted about the incident on Facebook, said the nets were discovered at about 8am. The researchers had journeyed to the south of Pulau Semakau to do a survey of anemones.
Among the 14 endangered sharks caught, one was about 1m long and the rest were around 50cm.
She said: “The law prohibits others from removing the nets. The only thing I could do is to take a picture of the net.”
Under the Fisheries Act, which regulates the fishing industry here, commercially licensed fisheries are permitted to lay gill nets outside protected areas, so damaging the fishing implements can be illegal.
In 2021, an abandoned gill net that killed at least 12 young black-tipped reef sharks was found also on Pulau Semakau. Between that year and 2022, the deaths of at least 20 blacktip reef sharks and two hawksbill turtles were among those linked to gill nets near Singapore’s offshore islands.
The spider-web-like nets have fine filaments that render them virtually invisible to marine life, allowing them to catch everything in their path. When abandoned, the nets become death traps as no one is around to release the animals that get entangled.
Citing Tuesday’s incident, a spokesman for conservation group Marine Stewards said: “Marine nets and traps can be indiscriminate killers, meaning they catch and kill various marine life whether those animals were the target species.”
The spokesman added that the organisation has engaged with the fishing community here to promote sustainable practices such as rod-and-line methods and releasing by-ca...