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Tunisia’s Appetite for Marine Delicacies Hampers its Ecosystem

Tunisia’s sharks are as diverse as they are beautiful, encompassing everything from the 680kg great white caught off Zarzis near the border with Libya two years ago, to the minuscule dogfish, which hunt the seabed for crustaceans. All have a vital role in maintaining Tunisia’s finely balanced marine ecosystem. Nevertheless, Tunisia is thought to be the second largest fisher of sharks within the Mediterranean, second only to Libya. But lax enforcement, a lack of awareness among Tunisian fishers, and the ever-increasing competition among fishing boats for a shrinking number of fish are conspiring to threaten one of the sea’s most vital species. Many of Tunisia’s sharks, including the great white, are protected and their capture prohibited. All others must be reported to the fishing guards – government officials who oversee the country’s ports. But neither fisher nor fishing guard are trained in distinguishing the sometimes subtle differences between species. With Tunisia’s economy battered by the coronavirus pandemic and generally expected to undergo its greatest contraction since gaining independence in 1956, it is unclear where protecting its native marine species sits within the government’s priorities.