As we prepare to launch our 2012 field season – during which we will be examining the role of Zambezi sharks in shaping community structure and ecosystem functioning in South Africa’s Breede River – human-shark conflict has come to its perhaps inevitable head.
On Monday, January 9th an irate angler targeted, decapitated and dumped a 2.1m precaudal length (PCL) male Zambezi shark in the river – citing human safety concerns and the shark’s responsibility for declining fish stocks in the system as his reasoning. Although we have been expecting this to happen since the launch of our research project in 2009, we were inevitably saddened that such a majestic animal could be so ruthlessly killed.
The difficulty remains the legality of this situation in South Africa. Though Zambezi sharks are, as elsewhere, considered a Near-Threatened species virtually no management measures exist to ensure their survival in our coastal waters, and recreational anglers are permitted to land and retain one Zambezi shark per day. The angler in question may have acted out of malice, but can anything be done to prevent this from happening again and again, and prevent the local extirpation of the sharks from the river?
Despite our best efforts to encourage South Africa’s Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (DAFF) to implement precautionary protection measures for the species – in what can only be described as their most unique habitat in Africa (and perhaps represents one of only two or three remaining critical habitats for them in South Africa) – no measures have been implemented in the Breede River. The fact remains that, since there is probably less than 10 sharks in the estuary each summer season, the systematic removal of these animals will likely have long-term negative consequences on the ecosystem integrity of the Breede River and its commercially valuable fish species. Changes in shark behaviour as a result of directed targeting will also ultimately bring our long-term research results into question.
Thus, in an attempt to further pressure DAFF into implementing species-specific management measures in the Breede River – at least until we have a better understanding of their ecological role in the system – SASC has launched an online global petition that calls for a moratorium on the fishing for, and killing of, the Breede River Zambezi sharks. It is our hope that the signatures of academics, concerned citizens and conservation groups from around the world will help our government recognize the importance of conserving South Africa’s wild and wonderful natural heritage, and help prevent the local extirpation of a threatened species.
To sign this petition visit: Stop the killing of bull sharks in South Africa’s Breede River.