MOSSEL BAY NEWS - Although the Oceans Research Institute's international internship programme was forced to a halt because of the Covid-19 lockdown, the outlook for the institute based in Mossel Bay is positive.
Maybe even more so than before.
This is due to a major breakthrough in its campaign to lessen the negative impact of demersal long line fishing on the white shark population.
Growing concerns have been raised regarding the absence of white sharks in areas popular for shark cage diving: such as False Bay and Gansbaai.
Some of the issues raised by conservationists included the effect of non-sustainable fishery poaching the hunting ground of apex predators such as white sharks.
Demersal long line fishery (DSL) has been mentioned as a contributing factor.
The Mossel Bay Advertiser, over the past few years, repeatedly reported on the activities of long liners operating in sensitive coastal areas, frowned upon by the conservation minded.
A name that regularly came up as vigilant eyewitnesses reported suspicious sightings near Cape Vacca among others along the local coastline, is that of the White Rose. The Advertiser has received several videos and photographs from readers, clearly showing the White Rose, close to the coast.
In April, during the level 5 lockdown period, Die Burger reported that the White Rose was caught red handed fishing in the De Hoop nature reserve.
Thanks to continuous pressure on the government to address the issue of shark conservation, the most recent breakthrough is the establishment of a review panel, consisting of various experts that will advise the Minister of the Department of Environmental Affairs, Forestry and Fisheries (DEFF), Barbara Creecy.
The nine-member panel comprises national and international experts. They will review South Africa's National Plan of Action for the Conservation and Management of Sharks (NPOA Sharks) over a three-month period.
"This is the closest we have ever come to making an impact on government to change regulations," explains Enrico Gennari, CEO of the Oceans Research Institute. He adds that following being featured on investigative journalism programme, Carte Blanche, several months ago, the long-awaited promise of placing observers on fishing vessels from May onwards to monitor the by catch was also made. This, says Gennari has yet to happen.
Gennari says that the NPOA Sharks review panel, appointed on 21 May, has been equipped with enough scientific proof provided by conservationists to ensure that they make sound decisions.
A main concern raised in an open letter to the panel is "the unsustainable pillage of [our] shark species by DSL fishery". Also, 25 000 signatories of the "Save Our Sharks in South Africa" petition to the minister supports this notion.
In the open letter the panel is requested to "pay extra attention to the DSL fishery, as despite being such a small fishery (six boats: mainly two active), it has a dramatic impact on several commercial target species and other CITES protected species".
Towards the end of June, the NSRI issued a warning to surfers, paddlers and bathers regarding unusual numbers of white sharks spotted along the southern Cape coastline.
At that time the Oceans Research Institute was hosting the filming of the latest Discovery Channel programme, Air Jaws. The programme also featured white shark experts, Chris Fallows and Allison Towner.
Gennari says the insert filmed locally offers a spectacular look at the white sharks of Mossel Bay. "Our mission was to show white sharks hunting at night and in fact, Mossel Bay is the only place in the world where this can be done. We filmed two night time breaches." He expresses the hope that the feature, in light of Covid-19's damaging effect on the local economy, will ultimately lead tourists to Mossel Bay and boost business.
As for numbers, Gennari says that Mossel Bay to Plettenberg Bay historically has seen a stable white shark population. "What is strange though, is that during filming for 15 days straight, we did not see a single natural predation. Breaching was only on decoys. This is indicative of something bigger going on in the background that is no good."
The Air Jaws documentary will be aired in the United States in July and will be on Discovery Channel for local viewers at a later stage.
Read the open letter to the review panel here.
•For more information, visit https://sharkfreechips.com/progress/information-for-the-attention-of-the-expert-npoa-sharks-review-panel/.
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