Coast KZN

19 Sep 2018

The facts and figures behind shark nets in KZN

Allan Troskie (North Coast Courier) Picture: KZN Sharksboard's head of research, Geremy Cliff.

The KZN coastline is one of only three places in the world where nets are used, the others being in Australia.

Few things can elicit fear like the appearance of a grey fin slicing through the water, which is why elaborate measures such as nets are used to lessen the likelihood beachgoers will come into contact with sharks. Shark nets are an emotive topic. The KZN coastline is one of only three places in the world where nets are used, the others being in Australia. The Courier spoke with the head of research at the KZN Sharks Board, Geremy Cliff, about the effect of nets, the history of their use and possible alternative measures. “When it comes to shark nets, we have been a victim of our own success,” said Cliff. “There are so few attacks nowadays that people are starting to think the nets are unnecessary.”

The use of nets in KZN began on Durban’s beaches in 1952 after at least 21 attacks between 1942 and 1951. On the South Coast, five people were killed between December 1957 and Easter the following year. “‘Black December’, as it became known, led to the holidaymakers packing up and leaving KZN en masse. It was a huge blow to the province’s economy. “The Sharks Board was formed for exactly these reasons. “In the beginning, local municipalities tried things like erecting unsightly physical fences in the surf zone and the navy was even called in to drop depth charges,” Cliff recounted. “Eventually these methods were recognised to be non-viable and the board was formed in 1964 as the authority for measures to protect bathers from attack. We currently have 37 beaches from Richard’s Bay to Port Edward with nets.”

The Sharks Board crew in action.

The charge against nets is that they are indiscriminate, often catching non-harmful species such as whales, dolphins, turtles, and smaller sharks. Cliff provided the Courier with figures detailing the nets’ catches in 2017 at Zinkwazi, Blythedale, Salt Rock, Thompson’s Bay and Ballito. A total of 60 sharks classified as dangerous (Great White, Zambezi and Tiger) were caught, with 10 being tagged and released alive. The rest died in the nets. Over the year 21 harmless creatures were also caught, with 10 being released alive.

The board has been using baited drum lines, approved by KDM in 2016, as another method. A buoy with a baited hook is placed off the beach to keep sharks away from swimming areas. Positives in the use of drumlines include a massive reduction in the number of harmless species killed, though detractors argue that the bait will only attract more sharks. “Yes, sharks are attracted to bait – but the amount on the hook is dwarfed by the amount fishermen on the beach and in fishing skis drop in the water. Any shark attracted to the bait on the drumline will be within a few hundred metres, so they are already in the area anyway.”

In 2017, 31 dangerous sharks were caught on drumlines with nine released, while only three harmless species were hooked, one of which was released alive. Cliff said the board was not insensitive to the environmental concerns and were always looking for non-lethal alternatives. “The alternative is to take the nets out and people must accept the risk. “Shark attacks are hardly common, but they get a lot of attention and cause a lot of panic – leading the public to demand steps be taken.” He said they had also started looking into other alternatives such as an electric deterrent, where they could place a cable across the backline with a low voltage to repel sharks, which are hypersensitive to electric fields.


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