Overfishing of bronze whalers ‘threat to the tourism industry’

Overfishing of bronze whaler sharks in Gansbaai is threatening the shark tourism industry, with shark cage diving operators bearing the brunt of the practice. Conservationists and scientists are concerned about the high number of bronze whaler sharks being caught because there is a limited number of the species which provides great opportunities for tourists to experience the region’s marine life.

The Great White Shark Protection Foundation is campaigning for a marine area in the region to be protected from shark vessels and fishers due to bronze whaler sharks’ important role in the tourism industry.

Wilfred Chivell, owner of shark cage diving company Marine Dynamics, said: “We fully understand that fishermen can legally catch bronze whaler sharks, however, the minimal loss that fishermen may experience from not catching them in the tourist area cannot compare to the loss of an entire eco-tourism industry.”

Chivell said if the killing of the sharks continued in the small area in which his company operated it could lead to companies closing and people losing their jobs.

In the Gansbaai area nine shark cage diving operators employ an estimated 250 people and receive over 85000 tourists annually.

False Bay White Shark Adventures co-owner Stephan Swanson said the area, “where sharks seem to be less aggravated by human activities, also happens to be a well-known tourist destination for shark cage diving”.

He added: “Although fishermen are rightfully allowed to catch the sharks, there needs to be some common ground formed between the shark industry and the fishermen.”

Swanson said the Department of Environment, Forestry and Fisheries should consider proclaiming the area a marine protected area.

Fishers were targeting the sharks due to the scarcity of the fish they had caught previously.

Chivell said: “The government is spending millions on Operation Phakisa to develop the ocean economy.

“Shark cage diving and boat-based whale watching are both non-consumptive industries.

“It is sad to think that we are sacrificing a billion-rand industry that plays a major role in employment and development in a small coastal town.”

He said no action had been forthcoming from the department, which should take emergency action and declare the area an “exclusion zone”.

Department of Environmental Affairs, Forestry and Fisheries communications director Albi Modise said: “The Department is engaging with affected shark cage diving and fishing stakeholders over the next two weeks to seek solutions to the current conflict between these activities.

“There are a range of options on the table which will be discussed and once an agreement has been reached this will be made public,” Modise said.

“Current levels of fishing on bronze whaler sharks are relatively low, and there is no information to suggest that this level of fishing will impact on populations of this species to the extent that it would impact on the ecotourism industry.

“The slot limit measures that the Department is currently in the process of implementing for all sharks will also provide protection for both the vulnerable young sharks and the large sharks that contribute most towards reproduction and hence replenishment of the population.”