Are shark nets a boon or a bane?

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The use of shark nets has long been a bone of contention between conservation groups and the KZN Sharks Board.

The use of shark nets, argue conservationists, reduces the number of sharks, many of them threatened, in order to reduce the number of attacks on local beaches – the nets are also responsible for the deaths of other marine species (or bycatch).

But the board counters this argument, saying shark nets play a pivotal role in eliminating shark attacks on Durban beaches completely – efforts were also being made to reduce the number of animals killed.

Cormac McCreesh, co-founder and co-editor of African Diver magazine and an experienced diver himself, said shark nets were designed to fish for sharks and functioned by netting sharks that visited an area.

“Although the nets are checked regularly, most sharks are caught at night and drown before they can be released.”

Sharks were hunted globally for their fins and many species of shark were threatened or near endangered.

“Sharks are vital for the ocean’s well-being, a bit like a lion is vital to maintain the natural balance in the veld.”

Another problem was that nets catch and kill many other species of marine animals, such as turtles, rays and whales, he said.

McCreesh said the KZN Sharks Board and other organisations had spent lots of money searching for ways to make the nets safer for the animals that might be caught in them, but to little end.

He was of the firm belief the nets should be removed.

“Our river systems should be rehabilitated to minimise the dirty, silted, polluted water pushing out to sea and attempts to relocate bathing beaches away from river systems should be made.”

But the KwaZulu-Natal Sharks Board has dismissed McCreesh’s claims, saying that, since their initial installation in 1952, there has been a drop in attacks – and in the number of marine animals killed in them.

“At Durban, from 1943 until the installation of nets in 1952, there were seven fatal attacks. Since the installation of nets there have been no fatalities … and no incidents resulting in serious injury,” said the Sharks Board on its website.

With regard to bycatch, their track record has also improved: “Between 2005-2009 the average annual catch was 591 sharks, 201 rays, turtles, 43 dolphins and teleosts (bony fish).”

Several initiatives have been implemented or are being evaluated to reduce deaths without jeopardising bather safety, including net reduction, dolphin deterrent devices and electrical shark repellents, said their spokeswoman Lindiwe Osazuwe.

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