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Protecting South Africa’s Great White Sharks through industry-science-conservation partnerships

By Meaghen McCord, 20th October 2011

South Africa is internationally recognized for its plethora of wildlife on land and in the sea. It is a country blessed with charismatic fauna ranging from the powerful rhinoceros to the most formidable marine predator, the Great White Shark (Carcharodon carcharius). What many don’t realize, however, is the very survival of these animals – arguably the country’s most important assets – is being threatened by the greed of only a few people.

In the case of the Great White Shark this has become particularly evident over the last few days when photos showing a recreational angler illegally capturing and landing this internationally protected species on the banks of Mossel Bay were released. In South Africa, anglers are prohibited from targeting white sharks and fisheries law states that incidentally captured animals must be released immediately. To those of us with limited knowledge of South African fishing law, this means white sharks cannot be landed and anglers must cut their line if they accidentally catch this easily recognizable animal. But one man – a well-known angler in the Mossel Bay area – has taken it upon himself to compromise the health and survival of great white sharks – a species which forms a critical component of our natural heritage – purely for the sport of it.

When Ryan Johnson (a white shark researcher and scientist with the Oceans Research group) was called to the site of this debacle on the weekend and was forced to take action, perhaps he did not expect this angler’s illegal actions to go “viral” on social media sites and garner attention from international press and conservation groups. And perhaps we have all been (pleasantly) surprised at the outrage expressed by citizens like you and me – people concerned about the survival of Earth’s living marine resources. People who would like to see this man punished to the full extent for his hubris and blatant disregard of South African conservation law.

Although Ryan and his team have witnessed the illegal fishing for white sharks many times – with virtually no response from fishery/conservation authorities – it seems this time might prove different. Hopefully the work of Ryan and concerned members of the public will ensure people think twice before setting out to target a species listed as prohibited in their recreational permit conditions. The message here is …leave our protected resources alone! They are protected for a reason!

In response to the actions of this one man, South Africa’s organized angling community (under the auspices of the South African Shore Angling Association (SASAA)) has made it clear they do not support the targeting of white sharks by anglers. Pierre du Preez, President of SASAA, issued a statement saying: We at SASAA do not condone this illegal practice. Relating to this incident SASAA’s objectives as laid down in our constitution remains non-negotiable… The main objectives and powers of the Association shall be to:
• Manage the Shore Angling Sport in a professional manner…
• Promote and encourage the conservation of the Coastal and Marine environment so as to assure the continuation of the Shore Angling Sport…
• Assist, and actively support all National or Regional Marine and Coastal Conservation research aims and activities…
SASAA actively promote and participate in protecting our resources by measuring and releasing all catches unharmed. Non return slides were banned in SASAA which will minimize accidental hook ups of the Great White Shark. SASAA and all its members can only hope that the individual involved in this latest incident is prosecuted to the full extent of the law. This type of behaviour cannot be tolerated and unfortunately ends up portraying all anglers in a bad light.

As an organization who has worked extensively with the angling community in South Africa, the South African Shark Conservancy (SASC) believes the behaviour of this one angler does not represent the moral and ethical standards within South Africa’s broader organized angling community. We also believe that, in many cases, a lack of reporting of illegal angling activity (e.g., catching of white sharks) is a result of several key factors including:
1) personal and familial safety considerations when reporting illegal activities;
2) an ineffective fisheries compliance and monitoring system resulting in a sense of apathy and/or unwillingness to engage in with authorities due to a lack of outcomes by law enforcement;
3) a lack of knowledge and/or understanding of recreational permit conditions and the Marine Living Resources Act;
4) a lack of gear and area restrictions that would decrease the likelihood of angler interactions with protected white sharks in certain coastal zones.

Although there are many other angler’s who have engaged in the illegal targeting of protected species along the South African coastline, the majority of angler’s affiliated with clubs do not support or condone this behaviour. In fact, if club-affiliated anglers are caught engaging in illegal behaviour – or behaviour that does not support a club’s Code of Ethics/Conduct – they are suspended from fishing within the club environment.

In this situation – where there are many stakeholders with varying opinions – it becomes critically important that all parties engage with one another to develop inclusive, workable approaches to conservation, monitoring and management. To ensure the continued conservation of great white sharks in South Africa, this surely includes partnering with the angling community to better understand the fishery and its impacts, as well as the delivery of scientifically sound conservation-based training within the industry.

As scientists and conservationists we stand to learn a great deal from anglers who – driven by passion alone – spend almost every free moment in the field interacting with species which we spend years attempting to understand. When properly trained, anglers can be an excellent source of long-term data – contributing to a more holistic understanding of species and ecosystems. Such a partnership would, no doubt, benefit us all in the long-term.

In response to the illegal targeting of great white sharks in South Africa, the South African Shore Angling Association have “…offered to create a GREAT WHITE HOT-LINE to enable their 3000 members to report and network against the illegal catching of these magnificent creatures.”

For more information on SASCs RecFishSA angling program, contact us on Facebook .

For more information on the illegal targeting of great white sharks in South Africa, visit Discovery News or visit the Oceans Research website.

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