reunion1How Reunion Island tries to deal with the Shark Danger

Helmut Nickel, Shark Year Magazine,
29. July 2013

At about 02.15 pm in the afternoon of July 15, a young tourist was killed in a shark attack in Reunion Island.

The tragic incident occurred in the waters of the bay of Saint-Paul, which is located on the extreme west side of the island.

The victim is 15-year-old Sarah Roperth who was swimming just a few metres from shore, reportedly wearing a mask with snorkel and accompanied by another girl when the shark attacked.

It’s the third shark incident and second fatality in Reunion Island this year.

Last May, a 36-year-old man was fatally mauled by a shark while surfing off the popular beach of Brisants de Saint-Gilles.

Another Reunion surfer had his own personal shark encounter in late April. He managed to escape unhurt back to shore. But the predator hit so hard that the surfboard was visibly damaged.

Shortly after the death of the teenager on July 15, professional fishermen were mandated by the Prefecture to fish for sharks in the close vicinity where the attack had occurred in Saint-Paul Bay.

They caught three large specimens :

–  a female bull shark ( Carcharhinus leucas ), 3.15 metres in length.
–  a male bull shark ( Carcharhinus leucas ), 2.70 metres in length.
–  a female (other sources: male) tiger shark ( Galeocerdo cuvier ), 3.50 metres in length.

The two bull sharks were caught in the night of July 17 and the tiger shark in the early morning hours of the next day. None of the three specimens had human remains in its stomach.

Prefect reveals new Action Plan to combat the danger of Shark Attack :

During a press conference on July 26, the prefect Jean-Luc Marx presented a new action plan to deal with the risk of shark bite incidents in the waters of Reunion Island.

 The three key elements of the new measures are as follows :

  1. An immediate prohibition of swimming, surfing and bodyboarding within the coastal strip of 300 metres from shore in the department of Reunion until October 1st, 2013. These activities are only allowed within the shallow ‘lagoon’ and supervised areas as determined by the Prefecture. Beachgoers who do not comply with the restrictions will be subject to a fine of 38 ,- Euro ( ca. 50 US-Dollar ).
  2. A total of 90 sharks ( 45 bull and 45 tiger shark ) should be ‘taken’ as part of the scientific Ciguatera-Program to assess the marketing objectives of sharks in Reunion Island. More information on this program is provided below.
  3. A new website, dedicated to inform the public about the shark risk in Reunion Island, will be established in October 2013.

The Background of Reunion’s Ciguatera-Program :

In August 2012, the authorities of Reunion Island have launched a shark fishing program for scientific purposes as part of the shark risk management, along with a satellite-tagging program.

The purpose of the fishing program is a new evaluation of Reunion’s food safety policy.

Because a current law prohibits the sale of most shark meat on the local market. This includes all shark species of the family Carcharhinidae (Requim sharks like tiger and bull sharks), Sphyrnidae (hammerhead sharks) and Hexanchidae (sixgill sharks). The law also affects the marketing of several bony fish species, belonging to about a dozen of taxonomic families.

The related prefectural decree came into effect in December 2009 in order to protect the people of Reunion Island from inadvertently consuming biotoxins that may be present in this variety of fish. The main concern is ciguatoxin that causes a food poisoning called Ciguatera.

Last year, professional fishermen have been ordered to ‘sample’ up to 20 bull and tiger sharks in the waters of the island’s west coast. This means that 10 specimens of each species should be killed and later examined by scientists.

Licensed local veterinarians should conduct tests for marine toxins and heavy metals such as mercury, cadmium and selenium. Specimens of four bony fish species should also be tested in the framework of this study.

So, the following two elasmobranch and four teleost fishes are in the focus of the scientific survey :

–  Tiger shark (Galeocerdo cuvier), 10 specimens
–  Bull shark (Carcharhinus leucas), 10 specimens
–  Two-spot red snapper (Lutjanus bohar)
–  Giant trevally (Caranx ignobilis)
–  Yellow-edged lyretail (Variola louti)
–  Great barracuda (Sphyraena barracuda)

Later the number has been slightly increased to a total of 24 sharks. This quota was reached with the catch of the male bull shark on July 17, which is mentioned above.

Now, after the latest shark attack fatality, the Prefect has announced that an additional number of 90 bull and tiger sharks ( 45 specimens of each species ) should be caught and examined as a second sampling phase of the Ciguatera-Program.

Conservationists have condemned the Ciguatera-Fishing Campaign from the beginning of course, and they are concerned about the drastic increase of the shark quota for its forthcoming second leg. They consider the fishing program as a hidden shark-cull under the cover of science. And indeed, it is kind of suspicious that the Ciguatera Survey includes only the two potentially ‘dangerous’ shark species and that the fishing is mainly restricted to an area where most of the bite incidents occurred.