By Jeffrey Gallant (GEERG)

A recent proposal in Greenland would see Greenland shark bycatch turned into a new energy source in the form of bio-fuel. Proponents of the idea believe that shark meat – particularly the oil-rich liver – mixed with wastewater and macro-algae could be minced together to produce biogas which would then be used to power isolated villages. In a part of the world where this shark species is considered a nuisance to fishermen and where some municipalities still pay a bounty for every shark heart brought to port, one could doubt that all sharks turned into biogas were in fact caught accidentally.

Equating dead sharks with a cash reward could lead to increased numbers of sharks killed and ultimately create a directed fishery with unknown effects on the marine ecosystem of Greenland and neighbouring Canada. This is even more alarming when one considers that the Greenland shark is particularly vulnerable to overfishing since it takes many years to reach sexual maturity and it bears relatively few young.

In a world where marketing strategies determine the latest trends, adding the prefix 'bio' is often a simple way to coax people into thinking that something is good for the environment. Turning a bad thing – bycatch – into something good – biofuel – is not a bad idea unless it leads to overfishing of a fragile and largely unknown species.

Bycatch is taking a terrible toll on the world’s oceans but it does not go to waste if it is left in the sea. Dead animals – including sharks – are quickly recycled on the seafloor where they feed countless other life forms searching for their own bio-fuel. This is a much more sustainable way to dispose of bycatch as it does not produce greenhouse gases nor does it encourage anyone to kill sharks intentionally for money.

Transforming Greenland shark bycatch into a mercantile and polluting byproduct would only worsen an already untenable predicament.

(Right) Greenland shark caught in the Saguenay Fjord.
Photo © Musée du fjord.