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Mexico: The Shark Fishermen

Manuel Lucero, 65, prepares his son's panga for a day's work shark fishing. His family has worked this region for three generations. The fishermen often work 14 hour days. Image by Dominic Bracco II. Mexico, 2012.

A hammerhead shark lays in a pile of sharks to be finned. Hammerheads are among the most impacted by the fin trade. It's nearly impossible to be sure but some scientists say their numbers have dropped as much as 95 percent. For this reason, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species voted recently to increase their protection. Image by Dominic Bracco II. Mexico, 2012.

From left, Manuel Lucero, and his son Cozme Lucero have breakfast and feed their dogs before heading out to fish for shark. Image by Dominic Bracco II. Mexico, 2012.

A fisherman clubs a shark as he pulls it in. Sharks often follow specific migration patterns, though most of them are still mysterious to scientists. A few researchers believe that if they can understand the migration patterns of large ocean-going sharks they can begin to design marine parks that could maximize the potential to preserve these animals. Image by Dominic Bracco II. Mexico, 2012.

Manuel Lucero, 65, pulls line out to catch bait for the "simplera" hook system they use to catch sharks 20 miles offshore. Image by Dominic Bracco II. Mexico, 2012.

A blue shark struggles weakly on a fisherman's hook. An estimated 73 million sharks are caught every year for soup. However, many say this number does not account for undocumented and quasi-legal catches throughout the world. If laws are strengthened, many policymakers worry more fins will just go underground. Image by Dominic Bracco II. Mexico, 2012.

A view of Isla San Lazaro, Baja California. Several generations back, fishermen could catch sharks right offshore, now they venture as far as 100 miles in small pangas. Image by Dominic Bracco II. Mexico, 2012.

While the fishermen are out at sea all day, the women of the community the work around the home and also prepare fish for market. Image by Dominic Bracco II. Mexico, 2012.

A shark and lobster fisherman with his daughter after a day of fishing. Image by Dominic Bracco II. Mexico, 2012.

A female shark is cut open revealing her young. Many sharks lay eggs but others, like this one, give live birth. Part of the reason that shark populations are dropping so fast is that fishermen like the ones at San Lazaro cannot afford to go far out to sea and thus catch juveniles and pregnant females, which travel near the shore. Image by Dominic Bracco II. Mexico, 2012.

Manuel Lucero places shark fins out to dry. Image by Dominic Bracco II. Mexico, 2012.

Francisco, 17, whose family earns their living from lobster and shark fishing, goes for a swim in the estuary of San Lazaro, Baja California, after a day of fishing. Image by Dominic Bracco II. Mexico, 2012.

Shark fishing in Mexico has always been a game for the strongest, the bravest of fishermen. The seas are fickle, the days are long, and the catch itself dangerous. As a result, shark fishermen tend to be tough-minded and not overly fond of outsiders. But their stories are linked to one of the key issues of ocean conservation today. Perhaps more than any other fish, shark populations are seeing an unprecedented freefall. Due largely to the growing demand in Asia for shark fin soup, some shark populations tumbled to 10, 5, or even 2 percent of their historic levels.

But it would be wrong to demonize the people catching them. Some of these fishermen have turned to shark because the other fish they depended on have disappeared. Some have been fishing shark the same way for 100 years. And others are just trying to capitalize on a valuable catch. With this in mind, Dominic Bracco went to live with them in their camps to find out for himself what drives them and what their future might be.