Recently the Save Our Seas Foundation (SOSF) was presented with information that alleged that over a ton of sevengill sharks were caught off Cape Point and transported to Gansbaai to primarily supply the White Shark Cage Diving (WSCD) industry with shark livers to be used as chum. Consequently, we sent out a letter to all the WSCD companies providing them with the information we had received and advising them that we couldn’t support any companies that used shark products. Furthermore it’s been requested that the Department of Environmental Affairs: Oceans and Coasts Branch consider banning the use of all shark products in the industry.
The WSCD industry in South Africa is regulated by the Marine Living Resources Act (MLRA). One of the objectives of the WSCD regulations is to “promote the economic growth of the white shark industry and the sustainable non-consumptive use of white sharks, particularly for eco-tourism”. The WSCD industry in South Africa is reported to contribute a minimum of R30 million per annum in direct ticket sales to the South African economy. Moreover, the WSCD industry has the potential to play a valuable role in shark conservation in South Africa through creating awareness on various shark related issues, in addition to contributing financially and logistically to ocean conservation projects.
However, the industry itself needs to ensure that best practices are adhered to and evolve their methods as new research and knowledge come to light. WSCD companies need to attract white sharks to their boats for the purposes of viewing and cage diving. Chum is used to create a continuous scent trail which a shark can follow to the boat. The chum needs to have an oily component which creates an effective scent trail. Sardines and anchovy (whole or refined oil) are primarily used to achieve this oily mixture, but in the past, livers from various shark species e.g. soupfin sharks, smooth hound sharks, sevengill sharks and bronze whalers were used extensively due to the high amounts of oil in the livers. In the past, shark heads were also used on the bait lines, whereas tuna is now the preferred species used. However, as the industry evolved, through learning and changing attitudes, most companies stopped using shark products voluntarily because of increasing public and industry criticism of the practice of using one species of shark to attract another for tourism. Furthermore, there are a variety of sustainable, albeit more expensive options available for use. Guidance on these sustainable options is provided by the WWF Southern African Sustainable Seafood Initiative (SASSI) and includes: Sardine (caught in purse-seine nets), anchovy (purse-seine), Snoek (caught in the line fishery and offshore demersal trawl), longfin tuna (pole caught), yellowfin tuna (pole caught) and yellowtail (line fishery).
Cow shark livers
The strongest argument that we have been presented with that advocates the use of shark livers in the WSCD is that it’s better to use by-products from captured sharks than have it going to waste by discarding them. Furthermore, a representative of the fishing sector commented that “The FAO (Food and Agriculture Organisation) Plan of Action for sharks asks for complete utilization of the shark. This suggests that using the liver is not just ethical, but a good practice. It could even be more ethical than not using it.” The FAO International Plan of Action for the Conservation and Management of Sharks does encourage the full use of the shark, but this more than likely refers to the wasteful practice of shark finning whereby the sharks’ fins are removed and the body discarded and they are encouraging the use of the flesh.
Conversely, there are two arguments being made against the use of shark products in the WSCD sector which in our opinion far outweigh the argument above. The first is the concern that the companies buying the sevengill shark livers are either creating the demand for their capture or providing larger incentives for their capture. The information supporting this claim includes the fact that sevengill sharks are not valued in the commercial shark fisheries sector as evidenced by their low catches in these sectors (Da Silva and Bergener 2007). The meat is reportedly of low value and currently gets sold for R4.50 per kilo while the livers get sold at R10.00 per kilo. Their fins are likely also harvested and exported. Furthermore, the sevengill sharks are allegedly being caught off Cape Point and transported to Gansbaai. There are shark processing factories located in Cape Town and the Strand which are far closer to Cape Point and therefore the question that is being asked is why the sevengill sharks are being transported up there at the extra cost if not specifically for the WSCD industry. If this is indeed the case the use of these livers is entirely inappropriate in the WSCD industry.
The second argument is whether the practice of using one species of shark to attract another for tourism is consistent with shark ecotourism ventures and shark conservation, particularly when the by-products are from shark species for which there are currently no catch restrictions and thus concerns regarding the sustainability of these catches (refer to Da Silva and Bergener 2007 for information on shark catches). Can one consider the use of a by-product that comes from any shark species whose population is of concern due to possible over-exploitation as part of an eco-tourism operation? Many companies within the WSCD sector don’t think so and neither does SOSF.
SOSF supports responsible and ethical shark eco-tourism and believes that the WSCD industry has a valuable role to play in shark conservation. However, we don’t believe that the use of shark (by-products) in the WSCD is consistent with their mandate. So far the majority of responses have been constructive, many WSCD companies have been totally against this practice themselves for many years, while some of those companies that used livers didn’t realize that they may be the ones contributing to the sharks being caught, and voluntarily decided to stop using the livers, which has been a positive step.
Furthermore we believe that patrons wishing to go white shark cage diving would like to know whether the company they choose uses shark by-products or not so that they can make an informed decision on which company they would like to support. Therefore, to better equip patrons with this information we have asked companies that do not use shark livers or other shark by-products to send us their pledge. This list will be updated if additional pledges are received.
White Shark Cage Diving (WSCD) companies that have sent us their pledge not to use any shark products (alphabetical order):
We sincerely thank the above companies for their voluntary support of this campaign. Together we can make a positive contribution to shark conservation. For further enquiries please contact: firstname.lastname@example.org/sos
However, the ultimate goal is that DEA prohibits the use of any chondrichthyian products in the industry and furthermore only permits the use of products sourced from sustainable resources as guided by the WWF SASSI Green List.