great white shark caught at Fish Hoek photo from to Fish Hoek beach have been wondering what the randomly placed white buoys at the mouth of Fish Hoek Bay are all about?  Great White Shark Research was the popular assumption.  Wrong!!  They are part of an experimental whelk fishing project.  

On 11 March 2012, a 4m plus female Great White Shark was hauled up after becoming entangled in a rope between a whelk trap and the white marker buoy.  The quiet wondering about the whelk fishing has suddenly splashed across the news as the story the Great White Shark went viral.  I had a double knee jerk reaction –a real kick start to the week.  First a protected species has been killed and second there was a reference to chumming for whelks.   Time to get some facts!

From what I could glean at this early stage.  A license has been issued by Dept of Agriculture and Fisheries to test whether a number of sites on the West and South East coast of South Africa as well as Fish Hoek Bay are ecologically sound, sustainable and economically viable for whelk fishing. The whelk fishing is based on a modified crayfish trap and a bait bag.  So there is no chumming.  Was the shark lured by the bait bags – apparently not likely  – or not directly anyway.  The bait bag is too small to attract the shark.  It could have attracted an octopus or a small shark or fish which could have roused the attention of a passing great white shark which then became entangled in the rope attached to the whelk trap.  Great white Sharks are curious and it could have come to inspect something new and become entangled.  The fishermen were persuaded to hand the shark, which is a protected species, to the researchers who will examine it to assess its condition etc.  The picture above is of the shark being landed at the Simon’s Town Jetty and was taken by Brandon Kilbride.

Is the loss of a member of an endangered and a protected species `acceptable’ collateral damage and should any form of  fishing with unattended bait be permissible in Fish Hoek Bay?  These questions will be closely examined in the media as well as by locals and the authorities over the next few days. 

What is a Whelk fishery.

The Whelk being targeted is the fat plough shell, Bullia laevissima.   Many of us know a related species of `Bulia’ – the common sand ploughs that live on our beaches and crowd around and eat stranded jellyfish.  The Bullia of interest to the experimental fishery is a rounder more `meaty’ version.  The activity at the mouth of Fish Hoek Bay is part of a larger study for sites for a whelk fishery. 

Apparently, the idea of the whelk fishery came about as a result of it being accidentally caught as a by-catch in crayfish traps.  A number of years ago, fishermen tried to initiate a fishery based on these whelks which were offered at some restaurants as a local sea snail.  South Africans did not take to it and the cost of exporting it to Europe where eating snails is gourmet was prohibitively expensive.  This first initiative died, but has recently been revived – hence the white buoys off Fish Hoek Beach.

According to  Fishermen from the “Boy Johan” vessel have one of the few permits to catch whelk in the area and had set their nets late last night roughly 400 metres off Fish Hoek beach. The fishermen were unaware that the shark had become entangled in the net until they tried to haul it up early on Sunday morning.

Great White Shark Activity off Fish Hoek

Sarah Titley, the Shark Spotters Project Manager responded to a question about recent shark activity in relation to the whelk fishing activity as follows:  ” The shark activity in Fish Hoek over the last month has been normal for this time of year, and exactly the same as the shark activity on other beaches, where there is no whelk fishing taking place. We have not seen a spike in activity since the fishing gear was installed.”


Photo taken by Brandon Kilbride