It is hard to believe in this day in age with all we know about sharks, including their dwindling numbers, their critical role in our ecosystem, and the small risk they pose to us, that the archaic process of shark culling through the installation of shark fishing nets still exists. But in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa, hundreds of harmless sharks, as well as turtles, dolphins and rays, still meet an untimely death every year as a result of 28 kilometers of gill nets.
It could be said there was a time and place for nets. When they were installed in the 50’s and 60’s, the public knew little about sharks and the fear of attack was high, with shark populations far healthier than they are today. We could tolerate the nets wreaking havoc on our world’s most important ecosystem, and implementing gill nets, the second most indiscriminate fishing method on the planet, was allowable, though thousands of harmless animals would subsequently be killed in the process. The public wanted protection and nets served their purpose.
Since then, while shark fishing has skyrocketed eliminating much of the world’s shark populations, the public has been educated on the environment and biodiversity conservation as well as the sharks’ true behaviors towards humans. Shark conservation is an established fact, as is the fact these animals are significantly misunderstood, with the risk of an actual incident being quite low.
In addition to the animal casualties, the mere existence of the nets is even more damaging when one considers their impact on our collective psyches; the nets are physical reminders sharks should be irrationally feared and eliminated at all cost. It is this loathing that stands in the way of their preservation.