Reducing the environmental impact of shark-control programs: a case study from KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa

Published on 24 June 2011.

Geremy Cliff and Sheldon F. J. Dudley.


Large-scale shark-control programs at popular beaches in New South Wales and Queensland, Australia, and KwaZulu-Natal (KZN), South Africa, provide protection against shark attack. Although these programs have enhanced bathing safety, reducing the environmental impacts of decades of fishing for large sharks and the associated by-catch remains a challenge. Over the past three decades, there have been several interventions to reduce such impact in the KZN program. The first was the release of all live sharks, including those species known to be responsible for fatal shark attacks. Measures to reduce catches of sharks associated with the winter influx of shoals of sardines, Sardinops sagax, have been increasingly successful. In addition, extensive removal of nets has resulted in a major reduction in effort. Collectively, these initiatives reduced mortalities of sharks by 64%. Baited lines, termed drumlines, were introduced at 18 beaches, where they replaced some of the nets. The former had a far lower by-catch of rays, turtles and cetaceans and significantly lower catches of certain shark species. Replacement of some nets with drumlines is planned for the remaining beaches. Only two attacks, both non-fatal, have occurred at protected beaches in KZN over the past three decades, indicating that the program has maintained its public safety mandate while it has succeeded in reducing its impact on the environment.

Marine and Freshwater Research 62(6) 700-709

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