An open letter from the  Fish Hoek Surf Lifesavers in support of the proposed trial shark exclusion net at Fish Hoek beach for the 2012 /13  summer season.   1 March 2012

The news about the exclusion net hit the headlines yesterday as most of you will know. This was done prematurely as John Yeld, environmental writer for the Cape Argus, got wind of what was being investigated and after giving a short warning period and an opportunity to comment on his article, he published the story.

 shark net for fish hoek - life savers proposal

Shark Net / Barrier layout (Option being considered )

 Well, it made the front page of the Argus, which I think was great.  However, as I said, this was not anticipated. Official Council procedure is for the proposal to be tabled at the next meeting of the local sub-council and thereafter to go to the public as the sub-committee needs to approve the project before it goes to the next stage.   Gregg Oelofse from the City of Cape Town is confident that funds for the project can be found. It is now VITAL that this project gets the support of those people who love swimming at Fish Hoek Beach.

It is important to clarify what is being proposed, which I hope will allay environmental and other fears. 

(For an update (Sept 2012) on the status of the trail nets go to: http://scenicsouth.co.za//2012/09/trial-shark-exclusion-net-scheduled-for-fish-hoek-beach-in-january-2013/)

First a bit of History

Soon after Mrs. Tyla Webb was attacked whilst swimming in Fish Hoek corner,  the City of Cape Town in conjunction with Fish Hoek Surf Lifesaving, called for a feasibility study to look into the possibility of laying an exclusion net, or the deployment of an electronic shark barrier which was being  developed by the Natal Sharks Board at the time.  The thinking was to located either one of these devises at Fish Hoek corner .

At the time the exclusion net was not deemed to be feasible and emphasis was put on the development of the electronic barrier.

The electronic shark barrier is still being developed and tested by the Natal Sharks Board and it appears that it is unlikely that it will be ready for deployment for some time to come.

In the interim we have had two more shark attacks, one fatal, which also took place in Fish Hoek corner just a few meters from where Tyla Webb was attached. The other shark attack  was in Clovelly corner.

We have also had a number of close encounters and there is no doubt that we could have had more incidents were it not for the Shark Spotters positioned on Elsies Peak and above Clovelly Beach.

There is no question that the atmosphere on Fish Hoek Beach was at an all time low after the shark attack on Michael Cohen.  It happened in Spring just when people were planning there holidays, and just as the lifesaving season begun. It is well documented that for the month of October last year, the beach was closed due to sharks in Fish Hoek bay more often than it was open .

When the beach was open, lifesavers and swimmers entered the water with much in trepidation. Nipper parents shied away from training sessions and a general somber mood prevailed.

The stress levels of the Shark Spotters on the mountains was high as they were under pressure to keep swimmers safe. The black flag flew most of the time indicating that the water visibility was not good enough for them to make timeous decisions about shark movements.

The decision to reconsider a Shark exclusion net.

Soon after the attack on Mr. Michael Cohen, City of Cape Town officials and the Fish Hoek Surf Lifesaving Club got together and discussed what possibilities were available to us with regard to making Fish Hoek Beach a safer bathing area.

It was important that whatever means was selected would have to be 100 % effective.  So, the City invited the Natal Sharks Board to Cape Town for a “ think tank “ session. This resulted in a relook at the exclusion net option.  The think tank meeting was held at the Fish Hoek Lifesaving Club and during the course of the meeting, we walked along the beach and the catwalk and visualized the position of the proposed exclusion net.

There is no question that the exclusion net will have its challenges. This is why it is being treated as an experimental project.  If we are able to conquer those challenges in the experimental phase, then a full environmental assessment will have to be done, before the shark net / barrier can be deployed on a permanent basis.

We know that we will have to deal with the South Easter and we know that we will have to deal with kelp entangling the net from time to time and we are confident that these problems can be managed. There will be a disentanglement team on standby 24/7 in the unlikely event of any living creature being caught up in the net or getting into the enclosure.

What will the `shark net’  look like?

Having said all the above , the general plan for the barrier is as follows :

  • It will be deployed for the summer season only .
  • It will be deployed after the majority of the Southern Right whales have left False Bay.
  • It will not be deployed during periods of high, white shark activity, .e.g. during October.
  • The net will be of nylon construction and will be of a small mesh design, similar to that  used by the trek fishermen.
  • The net barrier will only be about 350 meters long – anything longer is deemed to be un-manageable .
  • The net barrier will be fixed at a point on the beach close to the position of the law enforcement office at the one end and at a point to be determined just off the catwalk at the other. The seaward point will probably be about 20 meters beyond where “mens bathers”  used to be.
  • The net will float on the water surface on the top of the vertical section and will lie on the sea bed on the other.  It will therefore rise and fall with the tide and will follow the contour of the seabed.
  • The net barrier will be monitored 24/7 and will be checked daily by a specially trained  boat / diving crew.
  • There will be two identical nets. One will be in position in the water and the other will be de-fouled and maintained  out of the water.
  • It will be designed in such a way that it can be easily deployed and retrieved
  • It will be designed in panels which can easily be removed `insitu’ should the need arise.
  • The position of the barrier is not expected to affect the fishing activities of the trek fishermen.
  • A scientific analysis will be done on the movement of fish and other marine species, whilst the barrier is in position.  These movements can be monitored from Elsies Peak.
  • The enclosure created by the barrier will be large enough to accommodate two Nipper arenas.  This will allow Fish Hoek Surf Lifesaving Club to host Nipper competitions in future.  It will also be large enough to cope with an influx of the general public who are expected to use the safe swimming area.
  • This enclosed area will be for swimmers only, no craft will be allowed in the area.  Therefore all craft training will take place outside this area.

I hope this clarifies the proposal.  Please bear in mind that should this proposal be given the go-ahead by the City of Cape Town, the design details stated above could change when we sit down with the Natal Sharks Board to finalise the design..

I trust that most of you will support this initiative . If you don’t, it will not happen.

Mike Schilperoort

White Sharks in False Bay get Satelite tracking tags – go to: 

http://scenicsouth.co.za//2012/04/great-white-sharks-in-false-bay-tagged-for-research/

Fish Hoek Surf Lifesaving Club.

Click here to read the city of CT media release; http://scenicsouth.co.za//2012/02/city-proposes-trial-shark-exclusion-net-for-fish-hoek-beach/ 

Click here for account of Great white sharks visiting Fish Hoek Beach: http://scenicsouth.co.za//2011/10/great-white-sharks-frequenting-fish-hoek-beach/

Fish Hoek Surf Lifesaving Club produces champions! See

http://scenicsouth.co.za//2012/03/fish-hoek-new-balance-lifesaving-club-produces-champions/

http://scenicsouth.co.za//2012/03/anna-notten-of-st-james-and-fish-hoek-lifesaving-club-excels-in-peru/