A row has erupted after witnesses insisted that a great white shark entangled in a sea snail trap was alive when it was pulled out.
The 4.3m shark, a specially protected species, was dead when authorities arrived at Fish Hoek beach on Monday.
Now the city’s Environmental Affairs Department is calling on witnesses, who saw the shark alive, to come forward with “evidence that will stand up to scrutiny” to help them investigate the matter, said spokesperson, Zolile Nqayi, on Monday
Shark Spotters research manager, Alison Kock, said on Monday the shark had been caught in “experimental” fishing gear owned by Whelk Fisheries.
“The gear was placed on the sea floor and had a jar of sardines attached to it as bait. The shark was found with a rope around its gills. At the moment, we are unsure how it got entangled or why she couldn’t swim away,” Kock said.
Nqayi said a team of scientist were doing a necropsy in the department’s resource centre in Paarden Eiland to establish the exact cause of death.
Lesley Rochat, founder and executive director of the AfriOceans Conservation Alliance, said white sharks were a protected species which meant they may not be caught and killed, and if accidentally caught must be immediately released.
“We have been told that the shark was still alive when it was first pulled up but that the fishers chose not to release it, allowing it to drown in the hope of keeping the valuable jaws.”
Rochat said she found it ludicrous that fishermen were allowed to bait and lay their traps within 100m of Fish Hoek beach.
“It’s within swimming distance of Jaggers Walk, a white shark sensitive area, while hundreds of people were at the beach.”
Rochat, who is also a resident of Fish Hoek, said they were not consulted about the experimental nets which trapped the shark.
“We would never have agreed to increasing the risk of drawing sharks into the bay and possibly increasing the risk of a fatal encounter.”
Kock said the gear used by the fishermen had a jar of sardines attached to it as bait for the sea snails.
She said the the permit holders had looked into their fishing gear and determined that the shark was caught because of extra ropes in their whelk nets.
“They are modifying their equipment and have pulled all their gear from the sea to avoid a similar incident happening again.
“From what I understand from the permit holders and the fishermen, I have no reason to believe that the shark was still alive when it was pulled from the sea,” Kock said.
“They phoned me on Sunday immediately after they discovered the shark.
“In my opinion they tried to do the right thing from the beginning,” she added.
Whelk Fisheries’ Judian Bruk said earlier on Monday that the ropes were 2m long and were “more like two hoop nets on top of each other, used to catch sea snails”.
“They are made of a flimsy material and are not attached to a chain or an anchor.
“What happened to the shark was a freak accident as the gear is usually left overnight or for a few hours. We will be looking at ways of how we can modify the gear to make it weaker,” he said.
Shark Explorer’s Mornay Hardenberg said yesterday he helped tow the shark to port on Sunday and “the shark was already dead when they lifted it out of the water”.
Lionel Adendorf, of the Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries said they are still investigating the matter to determine who had permission to fish in Fish Hoek on Sunday.