3 december 2013 PHOTO: MURRAY WILLIAMS Monwabisi Skiweyiya, field manager of the SharkSpottters, examins the new "shark exclusion net" at Fish Hoek, which is undergoing trials

Cape Town - After years of shouldering the economically disastrous tag of “shark capital of Cape Town,” the town of Fish Hoek is re-emerging as a beachgoers’ favourite since receiving its unique new shark net.

The locally manufactured and designed “shark exclusion net” has been tested since March and is now undergoing full-time trials, with more than 50 deployments to date.

The net is 330m long and 5m deep at high tide. It is tapered as it runs from halfway along Jager’s Walk, back to the beach just shy of the lifesaving club.

The 500kg net has small-aperture netting, tightly strung top-and-bottom, and rigidly held in place by buoys – all part of a design to ensure that marine life cannot become ensnared or entangled.

“To date, not a single animal has been entangled in the net. The City is especially pleased at this ‘zero bycatch’ figure,” said Gregg Oelofse, head of Environmental Policy and Strategy at the City of Cape Town’s Environmental Resource Management Department.

It is installed every day at 9am by a team from Shark Spotters, which has been commissioned by the City of Cape Town to manage the net. It remains in place until 5pm.

Sarah Titley of the Shark Spotters explained that the team was rapidly becoming expert at installing the net each morning, and were down to 40 minutes to complete the job.

“People were just terrified to be in the water – especially parents of young children. People feel so much safer now – it’s brought a huge measure of public confidence.”

That said, swimming inside the exclusion net is voluntary.

“We can’t stop people from swimming outside it,” she said.

Tony Lindeque, owner of LearnToDiveToday underwater school, told the Cape Argus: “It’s not only about safety, it’s about people feeling safe.”

Former World Surfski Series champion Dawid Mocke, who owns The Surfski School in Fish Hoek, said the impact of the latest shark bite incident on the town’s economy had been horrendous.

“My business nearly stopped. It was probably the most publicity Fish Hoek had ever got in its history, and it was very nearly the nail in the coffin for the town.

“People began to know Fish Hoek as ‘where the sharks are’ – which is ironic, as there are more sharks at Muizenberg, statistically.

“I know of beach cottages that remained empty in summer. I even heard of some house sales falling through – people withdrawing their offers to purchase. They were saying: ‘We’ve bought in Fish Hoek for the beach – but now you can’t even swim here any more!’”

Mocke described the new net as a “win-win”.

“The shark-spotting programme is primarily about conservation, so they’d never, ever do anything that would endanger any marine life,” he reported.

“This net is nothing like the nets in KwaZulu-Natal.

“The nets need a lot of manpower, so they’ve also created jobs. And the nets have boosted the economy of the whole town.

“There was always a very, very small chance of being bitten by a shark. But it’s the perception that counts, and now you can swim here with complete confidence.”

Mocke suggested that the net might be lengthened to cover more of the bay in years to come. When sharks are spotted the exclusion area would still evacuated so the Shark Spotters team could observe shark behaviour at the net. - Cape Argus