The mayor of a town on Reunion Island has been forced to rescind a decision to pay fishermen to hunt and kill sharks because it contravenes French conservation law.
On Monday, MP Thierry Robert, mayor of St Leu commune near Trois-Bassins, where a bull shark was believed to have killed a surfer last week, made the decision to “act to safeguard the security of goods and people of his town” by authorizing fishing of the bull shark “by any means, including spearfishing, day and night.”
He said the town would buy bull sharks of more than 1.5m and pay 2 euros (US$2.45) per kilo of live weight for the first 30 sharks caught.
Reunion, a French-administered territory in the Indian Ocean between Mauritius and Madagascar, reported no shark attacks between 2000 and 2010.
However, last week’s death was the seventh attack and third fatality since the start of the past year.
On Tuesday evening, concerned that it may be illegal, Robert withdrew the order following a meeting in Paris with Victorin Lurel, the minister of overseas territories. French legislation prohibits fishing or hunting “by any means,” in marine protected areas.
The decision had been welcomed by local people, with almost 300 surfers gathered in front of the prefecture building to demand shark fishing be allowed, but animal rights groups criticized the plans.
Ali Hood, director of conservation for the UK-based Shark Trust, a member of the Shark Alliance conservation campaign, said: “The Shark Trust expresses its sympathy to the family of the fatally injured surfer. However, the trust does not believe indiscriminate financially driven culling is an appropriate response and encourages the local government to reconsider its position and authorize a more detailed investigation into the circumstances which led to the initial incident.”
Shark expert and marine scientist for Oceana Europe Allison Perry said: “Obviously the loss of human life is a concern for the government, but a move such as this is worrying as we don’t know what the potential impact would be on the bull shark population.”
Shark attacks have been rising in the Indian Ocean, with two fatal attacks in the Seychelles last year.
Western Australia has seen an unusual number of attacks, prompting the Australian government to call for a review of the great white shark’s national protected status.
There have been five fatalities globally from shark attacks so far this year. According to the International Shark Attack File, there were 12 deaths from “unprovoked” shark attacks in the past year.
Conservationists estimate that up to 73 million sharks are killed each year.
“It’s important to keep in mind what sort of numbers we’re talking about. In 2011 worldwide there were 12 fatal unprovoked shark attacks reported, in 2010 there were six. Over those two years, there is an increase but in actual numbers this is relatively small. As far as the numbers of sharks go, we’re much more dangerous to sharks than they are to humans,” Perry said.
She cited an Australian study last year which found that the increase in shark attacks was related to an increase in human population: more people going to beaches, doing water-based sports, or visiting previously isolated areas.