Shark nets or no nets?

2012-10-16 00:00

THE shark management debate is gaining momentum on the South Coast as stakeholders seek ways to find a happy medium between marine ecology and tourism.

The Umdoni Municipality is expected to soon host a public presentation to let the anti-shark nets lobby present their case, having already heard one from the KwaZulu-Natal Sharks Board.

“This would lead to a council resolution, possibly by the end of November,” community service committee member Eddie Baptie told The Witness.

At the heart of the issue is the fact that so many creatures caught and killed in the nets are neither sharks nor dangerous.

Marine life close to the beaches is vastly different to what it was when “Black December” struck more than 50 years ago and a spate of bites happened along the South Coast, said anti-net lobbyist Grant Smith, managing director of the Sharklife conservation group.

“As a result of overfishing, fewer sharks are milling around inshore.

“That’s why there has been a decrease in shark attacks,” he added.

He questions whether it’s worth having the costly nets, managed by the Sharks Board.

South Coast Tourism CEO Michael Bertram believes that the nets bring peace of mind to tourists who are the life blood of the South Coast economy.

“I think 99% of holidaymakers who come to our beaches would still feel safer with nets,” he said.

Bertram nonetheless welcomed the debate.

Both he and Smith believe sensational media reporting around shark attacks fuelled the public’s perceptions.

“We are trying to undo bad press reporting from the days of Jaws, onwards,” said Bertram.

Sharks Board scientist Sheldon Dudley said his institution had a duty to keep the public safe from shark attacks and Bertram praised it for doing so effectively.

“Shark nets have almost eliminated attacks on protected beaches,” said Dudley.

He added that the consequences of a shark attack and the effect it had on people’s frame of mind about entering the ocean was an issue for the tourism industry.

Meanwhile, the Sharks Board hoped to find improved ways to keep bathers from danger.

“We have resumed research on electric shark repellents as an alternative to nets and drum lines.

“We’re hopeful, but we can make no promises,” he said.

Drum lines involve baited hooks, which have the advantage of catching fewer non-shark creatures.

The Scottburgh-Park Rynie area, which is the focus of the Umdoni Municipality’s discussions, falls within the marine protected area that includes the Aliwal Shoal, popular with divers.

However, it was only proclaimed such in 2004 when it was a long-established tourism area, so exceptions were made for bathing and certain fishing activities.

“It incorporates two protected beaches.

“The shark nets were there already, at Scottburgh in the 1960s and at Rocky Bay in the 1970s,” said Dudley.

Exceptions also allow it to host the third busiest launch site on the South Coast, used by both fishing boats and shark diving vessels, the latter’s owners forming a strong part of the anti-net lobby.

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