'Why is it an essential service?': Lockdown has not stopped slaughter of endangered sharks
Demersal shark longliners offer few jobs, harm biodiversity
The fishing of hundreds of sharks a day is being allowed off Cape shores during lockdown, even though the industry provides relatively few jobs, harms marine biodiversity and offers no food security.
“There is scientific data that shows demersal shark longlining is not sustainable. It is not properly enforced but it is taking place under lockdown,” says marine biologist Dr Enrico Gennari.
“Why is it an essential service?” asks Gennari, the co-founder of Oceans Research Institute in Mossel Bay.
“At most there are about 250 people employed by them. The construction industry employs thousands of people, but they are not allowed to work.”
The demersal shark longline fishery consists of six vessels and each operator employs about 40 workers, said Zolile Nqayi, communications director for the environment, forestry and fisheries department, on Friday.
It plays a negligible role in commercial fishing, which employs about 28,000 people.
White shark expert and naturalist Chris Fallows says: “It is a disgrace that a fishery which is, according to scientific evidence, unsustainably killing already collapsed shark stocks, is allowed to continue. When this is done under the banner of an essential service it becomes a tragedy."
The demersal (the term for creatures living close to the seabed) shark longline industry exports its catch to Australia, where it is sold as “flake and chips”.
Sharks mature and reproduce slowly, and the populations of the smoothhound and soupfin sharks legally targeted by longliners have dropped by more than 40% since longlining was permitted in 1991.
Gennari says: “Tourism is under strain now and we need to preserve shark and whale tourism for the local and international market.”
Under lockdown, we can’t attend to a whale if it gets entangled in fishing lines. That is not considered essential.”
The Port Elizabeth-based shark longlining boat, the White Rose, can keep fishing under lockdown even though a criminal case against it looms for allegedly fishing the De Hoop Marine Protected Area, according to the department.
The court date has been postponed for three months, after lockdown regulations -extending the window in which the White Rose can operate.
Fallows, who is fighting to stop the extinction of sharks, says the longliners are “vacuuming up thousands” of these predators on each trip.
Local fishermen have been up in arms about the impact of longlining on their jobs, says Wilfred Chivell, a great white shark cage-dive operator in Gansbaai.
A live shark provides five times more jobs than a dead one, he said.
The renewal of licences for demersal shark longline fishing forms is part of the fishing rights allocation process (FRAP 2021), for which the extended deadline is December 31 2021.