Requiem for the Sharks of La Reunion Island?
Commentary by Lamya Essemlali President Sea Shepherd France
Sea Shepherd France acknowledges the recent administrative court's order that states the Prefecture of La Reunion “has the obligation to find a solution to the shark issue in La Reunion.” Among the possible solutions, “a massive cull of sharks, including within the Marine Reserve, is not excluded.” We are now waiting for the Prefecture's answer. Until then, we have to recall a few points of an economic and eco-systemic reality that remain inaudible amongst the ambient confusion, but whose disputation is a denial of reality.
To solve the crisis currently hitting La Reunion Island, it will take radical solutions. The word radical comes from the Latin language, meaning 'going back to the roots.' Therefore, we have to strike the problem at its root instead of only tackling its symptoms, which are the accidents with sharks.
Up to now, the authorities have only been capable of proposing placebo solutions by tackling the symptoms. Most of the accidents that have taken place could have been avoided; the last one being particularly questionable. How is it possible that a place like the St. Paul Bay, known for being potentially dangerous, was not clearly marked, particularly in the area of La Reunion Island? This is clearly a grave failure in alerting the public of sharks in the area and preventing attacks in the first place.
For a cull to have an impact, it will take a systematic extermination of ALL the sharks approaching the coasts. Given that La Reunion is an island open on all sides to the ocean, this means putting forth an extermination plan for these vital apex predators at a time in which global populations are dropping sharply. These fishing campaigns already take place, supervised by the state or in a private context, and they require a huge profusion of resources like hydraulic longliners with hundreds of hooks, which are forbidden for near-coast commercial fishing! One also has to take into account all the other species which will be unintentionally caught and that will without doubt be far more numerous than the sharks killed. It has to be noticed that a total opacity reigns when it comes to this issue, apart from the guitarfish (an endangered and harmless species) massacred during the last campaign, no information whatsoever is made public or available.
Indeed, fishing by a few individuals (by the way, what numbers are we talking about - 10, 20, 100, 300) will be completely useless and could create a dangerously false sense of security further damaging the island's reputation. It is highly important that the authorities listen to the wise recommendations of the scientists who repeat again and again that those fishing campaigns only serve a psychological function. The only effect is to cool some overheated personalities by giving them an immediate response. But at what price does this haggling for social peace come?
Not only is giving over these animals to popular anger and fear ethically problematic, above all, it sends out a worrisome message that those who shout the loudest, insult and defame NGOs, scientists and elected representatives end up winning their case to the state. Is this the message the authorities want to convey?
Finally, will La Reunion Island become the island where the sharks, natural predators of the oceans, are exterminated for the sake of nautical leisure activities? Is this the image the island wants to communicate to the world in a global context at a time when environmental consciousness is becoming an increasingly important standard for tourist destinations?