Chris Fallows well known shark cage diving operator challenges the popular belief that the great white shark population has grown in False Bay. His experience based on years of cage dive operations off Seal Island is that the shark population is being threatened by illegal fishing activities and that the authorities don’t have the will to take effective action.
Extracts from A Chum Slick of Deceit by Chris Fallows written for AfriOceans Conservation Alliance :
April 1991 was a momentous time for great white sharks in South Africa and for that matter all around the world. It was the first time any country had had the foresight to take steps to protect these magnificent predators knowing the importance they played in the eco system.
Since 1991 the popularity of this species as a tourism attraction has ballooned beyond anyone’s imagination – today upwards of 50 000 people come to South Africa to see these animals alive in the wild. Year on year this figure grows and this form of eco-tourism represents a industry worth 100’s of millions of Rands not only in ticket sales but also to airlines, accommodation, restaurants, car hire, transfer companies curio suppliers, and other tourism ventures the tourists visit after seeing the Great White. Combined these micro industries have created a small economy around this one animal and today it is one of South Africa’s unique attractions.
Protecting the golden goose, which is the Great White Shark in this case, would surely
be a priority to the authorities. However, although grand websites and articles suggest that the South African government is a leader in shark conservation, this is definitely not the case.
Chris identifies the main threats to great white sharks as the Natal Sharks Board which still kill between 11-60 great white sharks per year, commercial long line fishing, illegal catch and release shark fishing and trophy fishing for great white sharks. Contrary to popular speculation that the shark population has grown in False Bay, Chris writes:
Having been involved with working with these Great Whites since 1991 at all three well known sites in South Africa, especially Seal Island in False Bay and Gansbaai’s Dyer Island, we have a very good idea of population growth rates, size ranges and any other variable that might indicate a suggested growth in the population since protection as some have suggested. Our observations and data suggest a very different picture and a slight decrease in population is clearly seen. A decrease in the average size of sharks is also noticeably apparent and very few mature sharks are seen now as opposed to 10 years ago. Being apex predators there were never huge numbers of these sharks to start with therefore even the removal of a few large sharks has a significant influence on the wellbeing of the population.