Words by Jess Vyvyan-Robinson Images by Davin Qually, Beulah Mauz and Jean-Pierre Els

On 14th May, news began circulating online about a large shark that had been caught by fishing charter operators off Shelly Beach in Kwa-Zulu Natal, South Africa. After being caught, the shark was decapitated, and its carcass thrown overboard into the ocean. The head alone was brought back to shore, presumably with the intention of keeping the shark’s jaws as a trophy. This incident was witnessed by Davin Qually, who watched as the crew of the fishing boat rinsed the head, which had clearly been severed with a knife, at the fish cleaning station of the Shelly Beach Ski Boat Club. The skipper responsible for allowing the landing of the shark has been identified as Eddie Redelinghuys, of Mighty Charters. As a professional boasting 28 years of experience, his behaviour cannot be passed off as ignorance and is therefore hard to condone. His actions are in direct contravention of the agreement signed by all users of the Sonny Evans Small Craft Harbour launch site at Shelly Beach, which states that: “Any sharks caught and landed should be returned to the sea. No sharks to be brought to shore unless it is your intention to eat them." Clearly, bringing the head of a shark back to shore without its body is a clear infraction of this rule. The agreement also encourages anglers to support tag and release programmes, although Mighty Charters’ website promises prospective customers that they can keep everything they catch. When contacted for comment, Mr. Redelinghuys admitted that a shark had been landed aboard his vessel, but claimed that the animal had already sustained a bite from another shark. However, local divemaster Jean-Pierre Els claims that those who witnessed the remains of the shark being brought ashore told him that they had overheard Mr. Redelinghuys accusing the sharks of taking his traces, and that he boasted about killing and discarding other sharks at sea. Roland Mauz, the owner of Shelly Beach dive charter African Dive Adventures, also claims that he has heard him “bragging about how he kills every shark he can, then feeds them back to their own kind.”

At the time of writing, the exact species of the dead shark had not been established. However, based on close examination of photographs taken by Mr. Qually, and taking into account the species most frequently found in the area, it is likely to have been either a bull shark, a large grey reef shark or a dusky shark. Sadly, this incident is just one episode in a growing list of evidence that suggests the attitude of certain fishing charters in Shelly Beach is becoming increasingly irresponsible, and that they are wilfully neglecting their role in protecting and conserving the ocean’s resources. On 16th May, the situation worsened when Beulah Mauz, co-owner of African Dive Adventures, photographed two more decapitated shark heads on display at the cleaning station. These heads, brought ashore by a second charter, Must Byt, were immediately identifiable as having belonged to an oceanic blacktip shark and a bull shark. This second contravention of local launch site rules indicates that these are far from isolated incidents. The fact that not one, but two well-known charters in the area have displayed such flagrant disregard for both regulations and the sharks themselves serves to corroborate the statements made previously by Roland Mauz and Jean-Pierre Els.

This behaviour is particularly disturbing when one considers that Shelly Beach is the launch site for Protea Banks, a dive site so famous for close encounters with bull and tiger sharks that it generates hundreds of thousands of rand’s worth of international dive tourism each year. The shark caught on the 14th March would without a doubt have been worth considerably more alive than the R500 paid by Mighty Charters’ customer to catch it. The same unquestionably goes for those slaughtered two days later. However, Roland Mauz believes that far from appreciating the economical worth of the area’s sharks, local fishermen instead perceive them as a threat to their livelihoods- essentially, that the only good shark is a dead one.

According to him, one of the area’s local anglers reported that it is becoming increasingly common for his fellow fishermen to drum for sharks on the reef. Once caught, the sharks’ gills are destroyed using fish gaffs and pangas, its fins are removed and the shark is left to drown at sea. He believes that this aggression is sparked by the fact that the fishermen believe the sharks to be responsible for the dwindling fish stocks upon which they rely, and because they sometimes take their lures and traces and interfere with their catch. If the claims of this fisherman, who asked for his name to remain undisclosed, are true, then these charters and any others who adopt similar practices are being incredibly short-sighted. Sharks, as a natural and vital part of the marine ecosystem cannot logically be blamed for declining fish numbers, especially when their numbers too have dropped so dramatically in recent years. It is estimated that 90% of the world’s sharks have disappeared from our oceans in the past century, due in large part to over-fishing. Contrary to popular belief, healthy shark populations are imperative to maintaining productive seas. Sharks fulfil a vital role as the oceans’ apex predators, without which the food chain would become imbalanced, causing serious ramifications for all marine life. Mr. Mauz criticises the recreational fishing industry for becoming more than an outlet for angling enthusiasts to enjoy the sport. Instead, the actions of operators like Mighty Charters and Must Byt suggest that for some, it has simply become a question of immediate profit above considerations for sustainability. Although he and other residents of Shelly Beach acknowledge that the majority of recreational fishing charters still operate within regulations and with honour, he believes that the area is now paying the price for the greed of a few. It is also important to remember that the blame does not lie solely with the charters, but also with the clients who request to catch and kill sharks. In order to address the ignorance that leads to such actions, public perceptions of sharks as a whole must be altered. Unfortunately, the threats posed to sharks along the coastlines of Southern Africa are numerous, and by no means limited to those posed by recreational charters and anglers. In addition, sharks are at risk from the Asian fin market, for which they are caught using both commercial and artisanal methods. Furthermore, especially along the KZN coast, sharks must run the gamut of unforgiving, lethal gill nets put up to promote bather safety on public beaches. 40% of sharks killed in these nets are caught on their way back out to sea from the beach, proving that they do little to prevent sharks from coming inshore. In effect, shark populations (including non-dangerous species as well as other marine creatures) are being decimated for little more purpose than a placebo sense of safety for beachgoers who know no better. Once upon a time, South Africa set the precedent for shark conservation. In 1991, it was the first country to protect the great white shark, an action that sparked a booming tourism industry through cage diving. Unfortunately, with the exception of the few Marine Protected Areas where certain species enjoy limited protection, there has been little progress since then. There are limitations to the numbers of sharks recreational fishermen can catch per day, and the Marine Living Resources Act of 1998 states that sharks cannot be finned at sea. However, it is still legal to catch and kill almost any species of shark along South Africa’s coastlines. The sharks beheaded by Must Byt later had their jaws removed, almost certainly for trophies and possibly even for monetary gain- and yet there is no explicit law against this cruel and unsustainable behaviour.

Surely, it is time to take a more proactive approach to shark conservation. It is time to realise, once and for all, that sharks are an intrinsic, indispensable part of the marine ecosystem, and that it is in the best long-term interests of divers and fishermen alike to conserve them. In order to ensure healthy oceans capable of supporting these industries for generations to come, we must do everything in our power to enable to survival of the beautiful creatures upon which those oceans rely. The obvious answer where recreational fishing charters are concerned is to enforce a strict catch and release policy. In that way, charters could still offer the thrill of the chase and a day out on the ocean to their customers, without constituting a negative impact on the environment in which they operate. The only realistic solution to the wider-reaching issues that affect our sharks, like finning, long-lining and death in the nets is the continuance of efforts to educate and raise awareness. Every single person reading this can make a difference- through campaigning, canvassing, and tirelessly perpetuating the concept of the shark as a vital part of our planet’s wellbeing. To learn more about the threats facing the sharks of South Africa and worldwide, please visit:

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