Surfers call for shark research probe
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THE surfing community has called for an independent commission of inquiry to probe the issuing of permits to the Ocearch shark film and research project.
This follows the issuing by the Department of Environmental Affairs of new permits to Ocearch. The department had cancelled the project’s permits barely hours after the shark attack in which David Lilienfeld died at Kogel Bay on April 19.
In the weeks leading up to the attack on Lilienfeld, the Ocearch project – which involved the tagging of sharks – had drawn criticism from the public, especially because the project used chumming to attract sharks.
On the day that Lilienfeld was attacked, the Environmental Affairs Department cancelled Ocearch’s permits, but on Friday it announced that new permits, with stringent conditions, had been issued.
But Paul Botha, spokesman for the wave-riding community, called for an urgent and comprehensive independent body to examine the issuing of permits to Ocearch founder Chris Fischer and the scientists working with him.
In a press statement, Botha said the investigation needed to be carried out by a formally constituted commission of inquiry, independently of the Department of Environmental Affairs.
He said aspects that needed to be probed included the process leading up to the issuing of the permits, the terms and conditions of the permits and the operations and impact of the Ocearch project.
“This urgent request for the establishment of such a commission of inquiry is backed by SA and international shark experts and a broad cross-section of the local ocean-using community,” Botha said.
The department would not stand in the way of an independent commission of inquiry, spokesman Zolile Nqayi said yesterday.
He said Ocearch’s permits had been suspended after Lilienfeld’s death so the department could investigate whether there had been a link between the attack and Ocearch activities.
“No evidence was found to support a link and these results were made public a few days after the event.
“Over the following 10 days further information, including (on) the movements of the tagged animals, strengthened this position.”
Nqayi said members of the department had met the permit holders affected to hear whether they wanted to continue their research.
“A strong case was put forward regarding the benefits of this work, not only for understanding and conserving sharks better, but also, in future, being able to provide for public safety,” he said.
He said the shark research could be useful to the surfing community. This was why the department had issued new permits to Ocearch on Friday.
Nqayi said conditions attached to the permits were:
l As of three days ago, Ocearch was allowed to continue working from Gansbaai eastwards. Once researchers had fitted six satellite tags to sharks, they would no longer be allowed to operate in the area.
For example, if it took one day to fit six tags, Ocearch would not be allowed to operate after this first day.
l Ocearch would be allowed to operate in the great white shark cage diving area in False Bay as of May 14. Once researchers had fitted six satellite tags to sharks, they would no longer be allowed to operate in the area.
The permits expire on May 31.