Shark survival under review by panel

Apex predators like the great white sharks are disappearing from SA’s oceans along with smaller species of sharks Image: 123RF/sellphoto1

The survival of SA’s sharks lies in the hands of an expert panel conducting a review on the management and conservation of the species, starting this month, said white shark expert and operator Chris Fallows.

“This truly is ground zero with regards to the direction SA scientists and managers choose to go in terms of the conservation of our marine predators for future generations,” he said, in an open letter sent to all panel members this week.

An outcry over demersal shark longline boats decimating the populations of smoothhound and soupfin sharks — also affecting on bigger shark species like great whites and tourism — prompted the appointment of the shark panel by environment minister Barbara Creecy.

Environment spokesperson Albi Modise said: “The panel is a response to public concern about shark populations along the coast, and the change in the distribution of great white sharks and the resultant increase in conflict between fishers and tourism operators.”

The shark species which longliners catch and export have dropped by more than 40% (smoothhound) to 50% (soupfin) since this commercial fishery was first given the green light.

The panel has three months to review SA’s National Plan of Action for the Conservation and Management of Sharks “whether it is effective and where improvements need to be made”, said Modise.

“It will recommend actions needed to properly manage and conserve all shark species found along the SA coast, and to guide their long-term sustainable use.”

The one that got away: this ragged tooth shark in De Hoop Nature Reserve has a demersal longline trace out of its mouth but it evaded capture.
The one that got away: this ragged tooth shark in De Hoop Nature Reserve has a demersal longline trace out of its mouth but it evaded capture. Image: Jean Tresfon

The International Plan of Action for the Conservation and Management of Sharks will guide the review, said Modise.

This requires “the assessment of direct threats to shark populations, finding ways to protect critical habitats and implement harvesting strategies that are biologically sustainable and rational for long-term economic use.

“Particular attention is given to vulnerable or threatened shark stocks.”

Both smoothhound and soupfin sharks are already classified as vulnerable on the International Union for Conservation of Nature list of threatened species.

Smooth-hound sharks — permitted catch by longliners — are being fished out at a rate nearly three times a sustainable level, marine biologist Dr Enrico Gennari, the co-founder of Oceans Research Institute in Mossel Bay, has warned.

This data is from fisheries’ own scientists. he noted. Sharks reproduce slowly as their dwindling numbers demonstrate.

Fallows has sounded the alarm that longline boats have been “vacuuming up thousands” of demersal sharks (the term for creatures living close to the seabed) on their trips.

Within a month, 27 out of 30 smoothhound sharks tagged in Port Elizabeth were killed by one shark longline vessel, said Gennari.

SA shark conservationists are campaigning for an end to demersal shark longlining
SA shark conservationists are campaigning for an end to demersal shark longlining Image: Chris Fallows

Conservationists, shark dive operators and shark scientists from the Great White Shark Protection Foundation in Kleinbaai says three active demersal shark longliners were responsible for the decline.

The panel should consider scientific evidence on the threat to sharks’ survival said Fallows, who has submitted this data to the panel. On it are the following experts:

  • Professor Dr Sven Kerwath, specialist scientist: Finfish
  • Dr Charlene da Silva, scientist: Shark Resources Research
  • Chief director (acting) Saasa Pheeha: Marine Resource Management
  • Sarika Singh, scientist: Marine Biodiversity Research
  • Zintle Langa, Branch: Oceans and Coasts, DEFF
  • Dr Kerry Sink, marine programme manager and principal scientist, SANBI
  • Dr Alison Kock, SANParks
  • Dr Andres Domingo, director: Large Pelagic Fisheries, National Department of Aquatic Resources, Uruguay
  • Dr Rishi Sharma, Fisheries Scientist

The review will be done remotely because of Covid-19 and a final report submitted to the minister by the beginning of October, said Modise.

BY CLAIRE KEETON

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