“The destruction of sharks in Reunion, a mainly political and electoral measure”

The press release:

On 24 September 2011, the Reunion’s Department of Environment, Land Use and Housing (DEAL) published a report requested by the prefect on the 1st “targeted shark harvest operation” planned at the meeting.

Back then, it was only a matter of destroying – or “removing” according to the more civilized elements of the state language – a maximum of 10 sharks of species considered potentially dangerous to humans: the tiger shark and the bulldog shark.

This report, although prepared by government services, could not be clearer in terms of inefficiency in terms of risk reduction and on the danger to marine ecosystems in a system for the systematic destruction of sharks:

“Two emergency measures have been taken following the fatal accident on 19 September 2011 [la mort de Mathieu Schiller à Boucan Canot lors d’un accident avec un requin] :

ban on nautical activities in open water when the red flame is raised by the mayor’s decision;

a targeted operation to harvest sharks belonging to dangerous and unprotected species. This report relates to this last measure. [….]

The framework for the targeted direct debit operation must thus be understood in the following context:

It is not a matter of exterminating sharks from the near and distant shores of Reunion: such extinction, by removing the head of a trophic chain, can cause other predators to occupy this position at the top of the food chain. marine: other sharks or other pelagic fish. The consequences of massive removals on the evolution of the various categories of fish would be difficult to predict. The samples must therefore not, in their quantity, affect the natural balances, the ecosystems.

The operation aims to eliminate a certain number of sharks, which can cause accidents and injuries to humans, and whose sedentary behavior and territorialized movement keep them close to places frequented by bathing and activities. [….]

Is such sampling effective? Is it in relation to the phenomenon?

As there are currently no quantitative and behavioral elements (which are being acquired elsewhere), it cannot be ruled out that the sharks tested may not be the ones that were the cause of the aforementioned fatal attacks. Sampling will be really effective if the sharks that caused the accidents are settled and in limited numbers. [….]

Precautions should be taken so that the samples do not present any harmful effects from the point of view of human safety and ecological balances. To this end, the operation must be well controlled and well monitored to assess its effects. It must respect ecological balances. It must be proportionate and revised. It must be strictly monitored. [….]

Based on the advice given during Workshop No. 1, the maximum number of recordings is set at 10. It is likely that the number of recordings will not exceed 10. [….] Nevertheless, the threshold of 10, quoted by some participants, seemed reasonable. This precautionary limit is intended to ensure control of the ecological impact of the emergency operation. [….] »

The program for the acquisition of scientific knowledge referred to in this report is the CHARC program. Launched in December 2011, it will not end until December 2014 for a public release in April 2015.

In September 2012, in an article in the journal “Pour la Science”, Antonin Blaison, research engineer at IRD – Institute for Research and Development – and one of the leaders of the CHARC program, rang the bell for the destruction of sharks when the research program has just started:

“Shark attacks always evoke the right emotions. [….] Emotions, understandable, however, can lead to hasty and sometimes inappropriate reactions. This is what is likely to happen in the Reunionese case. At the time these lines were written, the public authorities were considering allowing “harvesting of sharks” in Reunion, that is, their fishing, including in the marine reserve. Such a measure is in demand by certain actors in society – water sports enthusiasts who are at risk, fishermen who consider sharks as competitors, merchants in seaside resorts who suffer from a drop in spectator numbers. But it would not only be in vain, but also harmful, as several arguments indicate. [….]

The first phase of CHARC, which includes three, has just been completed. It provides initial information, but which needs to be consolidated and supplemented with broader monitoring over a longer period. [….]

In the absence of this scientific information, a coherent risk prevention strategy is illusory. But we can already say that shark hunting is not a solution, either in the short or long term. And this regardless of ecological concerns about sharks and their role in the ocean food chain.

The strong ability of these two sharks to move along the entire coast, and even throughout the Indian Ocean, shows that fishing for sharks will not only be expensive but also inefficient, the sharks present at any given time and in a given area varying randomly. Harvesting could even give the opposite effect of what is desired: There is a risk of harvesting more coastal sharks, which can leave the field open to more pelagic sharks, such as the tiger shark. In addition, a hunt for sharks may compromise the CHARC research program, by disrupting the animals and their surveillance.

Sampling operations would only give a false sense of security and would not bring any useful element to the management of the long-term danger. [….] »

In 2013 (Executive Order no. 370902 of 13 August 2013), the Council of State also expressed reservations about the efficiency of fishing in relation to security, due to the fact that the stocks of tiger sharks and bulldogs are not sedentary (this which strongly suggests that sharks eliminated in a given area will be replaced by new arrivals):

“Given that it is up to the competent administrative authorities to determine the measures that can best reduce the risk of shark attacks and their urgency, taking into account their feasibility, their effectiveness, their costs and their disadvantages, in particular in the light of: of the scientific studies and experiments carried out, it follows from the study, in particular from international comparative studies, that the risk of harm to the lives or physical integrity of swimmers or water sports practitioners following shark attacks may be reduced by all or part of the following measures: [….] collection of sharks of dangerous and unprotected species, ie. in Reunion, bull sharks and tiger sharks, this last measure, controversial, seems to be effective only if the sharks are sedentary.[….] “.

Two months later, the local press (JIR of 8 October 2013) prepared an initial preliminary assessment of the CHARC program in the form of a warning to the state following an interview with Marc Soria, research engineer at IRD and responsible for the said program:

“If genetic analyzes were to confirm migrations and exchanges between sharks in the Indian Ocean, the state and its various partners might have to review their top-to-bottom model in terms of risk management.

First consequence: the potential emptiness of the Cap Requin program, which the prefect now openly presents as a first form of regulation. Because the device as it is designed can only be effective in reducing a closed population of sharks in a given location. The repetition of the fishery, faster than the reproductive cycle, makes it possible to mechanically reduce the number of sharks and thus reduce the risk. But in its famous 1997 report, IFREMER pointed it out in black and white: “This approach is only effective on inhabited populations. Research shows that most migratory and oceanic species are not affected by such fishing operations”. If the hypothesis of an open population already solid for tigers were to be confirmed for bulldogs, the drum lines could no longer be of much use. [….]

As the Cap Requin and Ciguatera programs are the only risk management tools currently validated, the confirmation of an open population in the area would be very bad news for the public authorities. A return to the starting point in short. Unless we are rapidly accelerating experimental and alternative solutions (video surveillance, electromagnetism, underwater lookouts, etc.) ”.

Since then, all scientific studies have shown the highly migratory nature of these two species throughout the world and especially in the southwestern zone of the Indian Ocean.

But despite all these warnings, nothing helps. By sweeping away warnings from scientists and its own experts, visibly scalded by its condemnation of the Council of State, under pressure from surfers, a few fishermen and merchants from the West and local politicians, the state began fishing programs.

First on an experimental scale (Ciguatera and Valo Requin programs). So in January 2014, even though the tiger shark and bulldog shark at that time were already considered almost endangered species by the IUCN, without their population status around Reunion being known and without taking into account the possible consequences for marine ecosystems, the state implements the systematic large-scale destruction of these species in Reunion waters (Cap Requin 1 and 2 programs, then Shark Safety Center programs from March 2018).

Of the MAXIMUM 10 sharks originally planned by DEAL, a “precautionary limit aimed at ensuring control of the ecological impact”, we are now at almost 650 killed sharks (633 as of 30 June 2022).

And the state has no plans to stop there as it fishes without ANY restriction: neither in number, size or sex nor in duration. Clearly, we are killing ALL the tiger and bulldog sharks that “dare” venture into the Reunion waters!

One has to say that politics has been there. We now know, in 2022, that this was essentially an electoral stance, in response to the demands of certain local protagonists, as Antonin Blaison pointed out.

In a written reply to Deputy Ms. Typhanie Degois, published in the Official Journal on May 3, 2022, the Ministry of the Sea itself acknowledges this:

“In Reunion, the recurring attacks by sharks on humans have prompted local authorities to issue decrees allowing the destruction of sharks as a catharsis. These texts were brought before the administrative judge of environmental protection associations, who obtained partial suspension of two of them due to of the question of the integrity of the La Réunion National Marine Nature Reserve, where direct debit was allowed. (sic !!)

It is clear that the state is killing sharks to calm a small part of the population.

As a bonus, a certain kind of contempt for Reunion must be admitted: the famous “catharsis”. We will remember …..

Didier Derand
Representative of the collective “Sharks in Danger in Reunion”
Sea Shepherd France – Longitude 181 – One Voice
Association for the Protection of Wild Animals (ASPAS)
Saving Sharks – Sharks Integration
Tendua for the conservation of biodiversity – Le Taille-Vent
Live actively to maintain a healthy environment (WAVES)

Leave a Comment