Sharks sanctuary or slaughter – contradiction in paradise

by    DiveSSI    11th April 2017
1 dolphin snorcler
Sardine Run: Snorkelling with Dolphins (c) Rainer Schimpf
Underwater Impressionen
Sharks everywhere (c) Rainer Schimpf
Raggies (83)_3
Sand tiger shark (c) Rainer Schimpf
Tsitsikamma MK2 (39)_2
The marine nationalpark MPA "Tsitsikamma" (c) Rainer Schimpf
Raggy Bell Buoy (18)_2
Sand tiger shark swimming around with a hook and line in his mouth (c) Rainer Schimpf
Fishing boat fished shark out of the water, pulled onto the deck, including larger species such as adult copper sharks, with iron grab hooks. (c) Jens Höptner
The fishing boat with a license for dogfish from Port Elizabeth (c) Jens Höptner
Fishing boat fished shark out of the water, pulled onto the deck, including larger species such as adult copper sharks, with iron grab hooks. (c) Jens Höptner
"Shark catch" of the day (c) Jens Höptner
Fishing boat fished shark out of the water, pulled onto the deck, including larger species such as adult copper sharks, with iron grab hooks. (c) Jens Höptner
Fishing boat fished shark out of the water, pulled onto the deck, including larger species such as adult copper sharks, with iron grab hooks. (c) Jens Höptner

South Africa: What are you doing?

South Africa is blessed! There is hardly another country on Earth that
has so much untouched beauty and such spectacular biodiversity.

Republic of South Africa is committed to preserving its valuable
resources through protected zones and national parks, and by engaging
ranger units to rigorously monitor and control poachers that hunt for
ivory, rhinoceros horn or coveted animal skins.

The “Big Five” make their home here, attracting thousands of tourists
year after year amidst the beautiful nature of the Cape region.
Elephants, rhinoceros, buffaloes, lions and leopards make up the core
components of a profitable industry: tourism.

Actually, a focal point
of national parks' marketing now even involve the “Big 7”, which
includes sharks and whales.

It's a well-known fact that the great white shark is generally not well liked by people (even its name is a metaphor for a bloodthirsty individual)
– except for divers. Nevertheless, the fact that this majestic animal
is mercilessly slaughtered every year – often illegally – for their
fins is no longer tolerated in the public.

Contrary to all the findings, it does not fit at all into the picture
of the "paradise" of South Africa, with official licences for shark
fishing on its shores being issued, thereby jeopardising its own good
reputation and flourishing diving tourism.

In addition, as game fishes, mako and blue sharks are not protected.
Either species can be fished by anyone who buys a licence through the
mail for six Euros. This also applies to tiger sharks and other shark

It is only in the MPAs (Marine Protected Areas) are all
animals are protected. However, South Africa appears to have
contradicted its own environmental stand by allowing limited fishing
within the Tsitsikamma Marine Protected Area – the country's oldest MPA
– for political reasons since 2016.

Jens Höptner is one of many South Africans in the large European dive
community. He feels a special attraction to the Sardine Run and to the
species-rich waters of South Africa's eastern coast, around Port

Already, the 51-year-old certified engineer from Warnemünde
has been to South Africa  seven times. Surfing, scuba diving and the
wonderful nature are an alluring combination for this dedicated
conservationist. Having just returned to the Baltic Sea, the memory of
his experiences has been firmly etched in his memory – images that
shocked him and shattered his belief in man's rational insight:

“We were on the road with Rainer
Schimpf from Expert Tours. Went out to sea on the boat in search of
sardine swarming and to snorkel with whales and dolphins. It is an
indescribable feeling to be escorted by hundreds, maybe thousands, of
dolphins gliding over the sea. You can even watch orcas when they hunt
or witness the spectacular Sardine Run,” Höptner enthused about his experiences on South Africa's eastern coast.

Unfortunately, he also witnessed a very different spectacle during one
of the trips. About 45 kilometres off the coast in the Algoa Bay area,
a South African fishing boat fished shark out of the water. Captured
with the longline, young sharks were pulled onto the deck, including
larger species such as adult copper sharks, with iron grab hooks –
completely uninhibited and without being bothered by the 'astonished
dive tourists'. Why, this spectacle was actually quite legal, with
official state approval.

“It was a cruel act and I will never ever forget those images,” said Höptner. Schimpf further clarified: “Fishing
licences are awarded for certain types of ground sharks. The fact that,
in the case of longline fishing, larger sharks of other species – of
course, completely intentionally – end up as 'bycatch' on board the
fishing boat is quietly accepted.”

The extent of damage to the shark population caused by this “use of the
marine resource” is controversial. More and more divers are seeing
sharks swimming around with hooks and lines – or even steel hooks – in
their mouths. Such images destroy the strong spirit and raw beauty of
this massive creature.

Höptner dipped his fingers deeper into the wound. “I
love this country and recommend South Africa as a destination. Only,
what is happening at the coasts does not at all reflect what the
friendly people, the wonderful nature and the state of South Africa
have so far to offer as its unique qualities,” said the
enthusiastic diver and surfer.

To remedy the situation, he wrote
letters to the relevant authorities in South Africa. His mails to the
tourism and fishery authorities of the eastern Cape region remained
unanswered. Later, he received a concise explanation that the vessel in
question had a licence for the long-line fishing of dogfish and was by
no means acting illegally.

Even TUI, the big tour operator in South Africa, did not reply. Only
after repeated tries did the active conservationist get a response from
the TUI headquarters in Hanover: “We
have learnt about the permits for shark hunting. In this context, we
would like to draw attention to the findings of the TEEB study
assessing and explaining the value of maintaining the ecosystem and
biodiversity for a destination and its inhabitants,” wrote Mike Brauner, TUI's Senior Manager Sustainability.

A clear statement looks different; but after all, the problem at TUI is
clearly understood. It would have been possible to briefly explain that
it has been proven that the economic value of a strong shark population
is significantly higher than the total sale of slaughtered sharks in
the form of meat or fins. On the other hand, sustainability, resource
protection and respect are concepts that are quite different from the
actual animal.

And so, this contradiction in paradise will probably persist, in this
land of wonderful sunsets, with herds of elephants, buffaloes, zebras,
antelopes and gazelles crossing the savannahs. Don't forget the lions,
cheetahs, hyenas and vultures that are constantly following them,
looking for their next meal. And, of course, the sharks off the coast
of South Africa, which leave bloody traces on the sides of fishing
trawlers, being the victims of a species fuelled by a greed that
violates all laws of reason.

Further information:

Article on the economic value of a
strong shark population.

South Africa: Sardine Run Adventure 2017

For those who love the beautiful coasts of South Africa, Rainer
Schimpf from Expert Tours offers a special introductory trip there,
with seven more places for special conditions. Interested? Click here.

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11th April 2017
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