File picture: Hotli Simanjuntak

Durban - The KwaZulu-Natal Sharks Board has stepped into controversy by suggesting it be allowed to sell shark meat, fins and other body parts to raise more money for the cash-strapped public entity.

The suggestion was made by Sharks Board chief executive Mthokozisi Radebe on Thursday to members of the portfolio committee for economic development, tourism and environmental affairs.

He said the board used to sell shark by-products, including fins, to supplement its revenue. It is understood that fins were sold to Hong Kong merchants for use in shark fin soup – but this ended around 2003, along with the sale of shark teeth at the board’s curio shop in Umhlanga.

Radebe said that when the KZN Sharks Board Act was passed in 2008, the board was specifically prohibited from selling by-products. He understood the rationale for this prohibition was to ensure the board did not catch and kill sharks deliberately to raise revenue.

“But I’m saying that if you remove that source of income, it should be replaced by something else.”

Noting that Ezemvelo KZN Wildlife was allowed to sell surplus wild animals at its annual wildlife sales, Radebe suggested the Sharks Board should “also be allowed to kill some of these sharks”.

“But that’s a subject of debate…” he added quickly.

The act also states that the board should endeavour to reduce its negative impact on biodiversity and try to release all sharks alive when they are caught in the nets.

So the proposal to resume shark by-product sales is expected to generate controversy in several quarters because of the growing fishing pressure on sharks worldwide.

Sharks Board statistics suggest that about 500 sharks are killed in the KZN bather protection nets every year, including about 22 great whites as well as 50 ragged-tooth, 30 tiger, 12 Zambezi, 115 dusky, 70 blacktip and more than 150 hammerhead sharks.

Dr Alison Kock, a Cape Town marine biologist and shark expert, said last night she was reluctant to comment on Radebe’s proposal without knowing more details.

“In principle, if a shark is already dead it is preferable to maximise the value of the animal rather than dumping it on a rubbish heap. So, if it can be used, perhaps it is something you would consider – provided it does not create a perverse incentive to catch more sharks to raise revenue.”

Overall, she stressed that shark species across the world were being fished out faster than they could reproduce.

Earlier this year, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature shark specialist group reported that at least a quarter of the world’s shark and shark-like species were at high risk of extinction – with only a third of these species considered to be safe.

A study by Dr Nick Dulvy and more than 300 other experts across the world, concluded that the largest, shallow-water species were most at risk because of overfishing.

Another recent study suggests that almost 5 000 tons of sharks, rays and skates are caught every year off the South African coast, with about two thirds of this total made up of by-catch.

Senior Australian shark researcher Dr Colin Simpendorfer told a recent shark conference in Durban that overfishing was the biggest threat to sharks and rays worldwide, although there were still some species of shark that could still be fished on a sustainable basis.

In 2011, the Sharks Board received R25 million from government subsidies and only raised about R18m of its own income, mainly from net-meshing fees from coastal municipalities. In 2012 it raised about R19m from meshing, but the lion’s share of its income came from a R41m state subsidy.

The Mercury