This past week (4 June 2015), the KZN Sharks Board killed 15 Sharks in their nets of Margate alone, in a single day, 15 Sharks, none of which were even considered a "dangerous species" - a few weeks ago I saw images of a Great White Shark they had caught of KZN, now consider this carefully, there are 25x more Rhino left in South Africa compared to Great White Sharks. Great White Shark populations in South Africa are estimated to be down to 350-500 odd individuals (compared to Rhino at a 25 000 individuals) ....the big difference here, we, the tax payers are directly paying for the killing of an animal that is actually protected under our own legislation. It is illegal for a fisherman to catch or even target a Great White, but Sharks Board can, and you pay for it. Drum lines exist to attract and catch big sharks, no other reason. Consider the Ragged Tooth Shark, a docile species that has never, never, ever attacked a human, over 5000 have been killed in these shark nets over the years and most of them in a Marine Protected Area (Aliwal Shoal) - the bottom line, across the world, Sharks are declining faster than they can reproduce. Across the world people are standing up against shark finning and the sale of shark meat, several airlines have banned the transport of shark meat and product all together but here, the KZN Sharks Board want to start selling shark meat for profit, the mind boggles. See full article for more information on the KZN Sharks Board request to sell Shark meat here.
Great White Shark populations in South Africa are estimated to be down to 350-500 odd individuals (compared to Rhino at a 25 000 individuals) ....the big difference here, we, the tax payers are directly paying for the killing of an animal that is actually protected under our own legislation. It is illegal for a fisherman to catch or even target a Great White, but Sharks Board can, and you pay for it. This is an animal with a population 25x less than Rhino!
According to Remove The Nets (www.removethenets.com) in the last thirty years, the nets have been responsible for the death of a significant amount of bycatch including approximately 2,211 turtles, 8,448 rays, and 2,310 dolphins. This means that the nets and drumlines have caught 100% more turtles and dolphins and 800% more rays than white sharks. Important to note, all species of turtles and many species of dolphins are threatened or endangered. Additionally, the nets average 5 threatened or endangered whale catches per year as well.
The nets have been responsible for the death of over 33,684 sharks in the last thirty years, although less than 12% of those sharks are the targeted species. Thus approximately 29,800 sharks have been killed in the last 30 years that did not pose any threat whatsoever to bathers. However, their deaths do indeed pose a threat to the health of the ocean ecosystem.
KZN Sharks Board have essentially failed their own mission statement
This how KZN Sharks Board describe themselves on their website as follows "The KZNSB also conducts research into the biology of sharks and other animals caught in shark safety gear. Tourists and scholars are educated with dynamic audio-visual shows and shark dissections. In-depth research, that has already produced vital insight, is conducted into shark behavior, feeding and breeding."
We have two important issues with this statement of theirs. Number one, research. The KZN Sharks Board have been going for well over 50 years. What new research have they produced, what new things have they done in the past twenty years? We keep hearing about electronic, sharks repellent gear and other technology, in fact, we have been hearing about this since the 1990's and to date not a single shark net has been replaced with a more environmentally friendly method for bather protection. Now, if I was a researcher and not produced anything of real value over the past 50 years other than many carcasses being dissected, I'd be very embarrassed.
Bottom line, if they want to sell shark meat, how can we ever believe them that they want to reduce shark deaths in their nets? And their so called research, well, I think it's best that is kept to respectable universities and research organizations that actually do something useful rather than dissect sharks for 50+ years. Calling this research is in the same category as the Japanese Whaling program calling themselves "scientific research" .....everyone knows it's not science but it is a great excuse.
Secondly, they educate. Well that statement is laughable. Just this past week I was unfortunate enough to attend a presentation at a corporate event by the KZN Sharks Board. Besides an unusual amount of fear-mongering the cherry on the top was when I asked about their "by-catch, whales, dolphins, turtles etc..." - Take a guess what the presenters answer was..."only a white oke would ask that question" and that was it, that was his answer. And then he proceeded to build the fear...Tiger Sharks are the scavengers of the sea, if you get in their way, they will eat you. If you wear jewelry a shark will eat you, if you're a woman on her period and you go swimming, you're gona get eaten. I am not exaggerating, that's exactly how it panned out ....in amongst some other jewels of poor anti-shark propaganda. Not a word of "sharks actually have a bad rap" or "many are seriously endangered species" or "you're more likely to get killed by a diary cow" - just sowing fear as he pranced around demonstrating with the dry jawbone of a shark how it can fit around your waist. Ask any diver who has spent time in the water with Sharks and you'll get a totally different opinion on shark behavior and the need to NOT fear them. You literally do have a better chance of being killed by a dairy cow. My point is this, they had the perfect opportunity to "educate" - this was not education, this was fear mongering and not a single word, not one word "positive" about Sharks. This is NOT education. In fact is was 20 minutes of very misleading and false information.
The KZN Sharks Board are media manipulators of note
This is simple, we know for a fact that they catch a lot of Sharks each year, VERY little of the by-catch ever makes it into the media. If the KZN Sharks Board catch a big Zambezi Shark or a big Tiger Shark it will be in your local papers. Strange how we never, ever see media releases on dolphins being caught, turtles being caught, rays being caught, why, it's simple, they prefer the public not to see that sort of thing. It's easy to justify killing sharks when you spin fear, you can't spin the fear factor when you kill dolphins, turtles and rays. They catch a LOT of Turtles, Rays, Dolphins and harmless Sharks, you'll seldom hear about it though and they certainly don't talk about it much.
Furthermore, they simply lie and cannot be trusted. I personally know of an incident in Richards Bay where a Humpbacked Dolphin was caught in their nets. They were actually photographed by a local surf ski paddler taking the dead dolphin out the net. When they were approached about it, they denied it point blank, KZN Sharks Board just lied about it. From their side, Humpbacked Dolphins are rare and listed as vulnerable by the IUCN. It's no wonder they would want to hide this information. The photos were published in the local newspaper the following day. No comment or explanation as to why they blatantly lied about it, the public soon forgot and it was business as usual. Their nets in Richards Bay continue to kill these endangered animals. In short, I have had direct experience and it's simple, they can not be trusted and run a very slick media / PR machine to justify their killing. We are not the only ones who have experienced this, this article, written just a few days ago entitled "Why The KZN Sharks Board Lies All The Time" shows how a lot of people have directly experienced this sneaky, well managed PR campaign, aimed not at informing the public but protecting themselves.
Lets get onto the issue of saving lives
KZN Sharks Board claim to save lives. I'm not sure how they can claim this but anyway, lets talk saving lives. In South Africa, between 2001 and 2004, 2385 people died from drowning, that is more than one every day. In the same period, perhaps 4, perhaps 5 maybe as much as 6 people were attacked by Sharks and possibly one or two deaths. KZN Sharks Board has a budget of well over R60 million each year. Lets think about that, with R60 million - you could employ extra 300 lifeguards, if not more. You could equip scores of new NSRI sea rescue bases, you could teach thousands and thousands of children to swim. Now, that's saving lives. We have the opportunity to mitigate over 500 deaths a year from drowning and we throw the money at something that causes a single death (if that, each year) - everyone knows that you have a better chance of being killed by a dairy cow or being bitten by a stranger than being killed by a Shark. Lets spend that budget on saving lives, pay lifeguards decent salaries, get more lifeguards, teach kids to swim, you name it, there are loads of better ways to save lives.
Almost any surfer, diver, snorkeler, spear fishermen will agree, when you go into the ocean, you accept the risks. And this is another important point, very few (if any) shark related deaths are random people swimming, the deaths are by far slanted towards spear fishermen and surfers (Spear fishermen carry their bleeding catch around with them, so attacks are almost understandable and surfers, generally are a case of mistaken identity)
Oh, but what about our tourism industry, tourists will stop coming, we are protecting our tourism industry?
This is untrue. Cape Town has had more fatal shark attacks in recent years than KZN could ever dream of, Cape Town is also home to the biggest population in the world of Great White Sharks. Has tourism plummeted in Cape Town? No, in fact it's booming. Florida, USA, has the highest average shark attack rate in the world and their tourism industry continues to boom. So forget that fallacy, it's a indefensible excuse.
The KZN Sharks Board kills endangered species. They also kill hundreds of harmless whales, sharks, dolphins, turtles each year, they sow fear and lies, they spend a huge amount of tax payers money doing this, they just kill things, using the same approach and methodology as they used in the 1960's ....seriously, this is 2015. And now they want to profit off that killing by selling shark meat? Not cool, not acceptable and they will have a public outcry second to none on their hands if they do. The entire world, every marine biologist and ocean enthusiast is fighting to save sharks populations. The neagtive impacts on fisheries and marine ecosystems resulting reduced shark populations is very well documented .....why are we going in the opposite direction?
The alternatives to shark nets & drum lines
The alternative is simple, affordable and doesn’t kill anything, a solid barrier that can be used at busy, popular high risk beaches, there are many ideas and technologies out there that are friendlier. Check out this idea, the Eco-Barrier as just one example, simple, fool proof and zero by catch. Why aren’t we investing in new methods? Is it because we don’t get to catch sharks and sell their meat? Or somewhere in someone's warped mind we still think random killing in nets is OK? I do not know, all I do know that is if KZN Sharks Board are allowed to start selling shark meat, we will have a slaughter on our hands, a slaughter that makes the current killing look like small fry. Get rid of the nets, get rid of this organization, spend the money where it is really needed (beach safety, swimming lessons, lifeguards) and invest in new, environmentally sound technologies.
It's been 50 years of research from Sharks Board and they have not come up with an alternative. The fact is, we probably do not need an alternative. We just need to respect the ocean for what it is, it's not our turf.
Other useful reading, links and resources
You want to do something, get behind these organizations, they are doing a lot of really good work in South Africa to help change public perception about Sharks and remove the nets.