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Richard Peirce


Richard Peirce

Since trade and commerce began they have been governed by the laws of supply and demand. Most animal conservation NGOs concentrate their efforts on reducing or regulating supply. Regulating supply is done through legislation, treaties, and agreements. Unfortunately history shows that passing laws and making a supply illegal is rarely fully effective, because whenever there is demand a means of supply will be found – whether legal or illegal. In the 1920s and early 30s in the U.S alcohol prohibition was a failure and led to thriving illegal supply. In today's world the illegal trafficking of drugs and humans has the world's police forces deployed against them yet the trades increase in value and volume every year.

For many species, including some sharks, the extinction clock is ticking. Attempts to regulate or legislate against supply may slow the clock, but they won't stop it ticking. To stop the clock we must concentrate on demand as well as supply – without demand there would be no need for supply!

May saw the launch of HRH Prince Charles and HRH Prince William's Wildlife Crime Campaign. The Princes acknowledge the importance of making wildlife crime as serious as drugs, human trafficking, and the illegal arms trade. The launch was attended by representatives from Interpol, CITES, the U.N Office On Crime and Drugs, TRAFFIC the UNODC, and many leading NGOs.

For sharks the recent CITES Appendix II listing of the porbeagle, oceanic whitetip and three hammerheads is a positive step. Another positive step is the pan European ratification of the new finning regulations. However as I said at the beginning of this piece establishing legal frameworks and penalties has never stopped supply if the demand persists. Their Royal Highnesses are calling a Head of State meeting in the autumn to progress their initiative – it is to be hoped that Heads of State from the countries which provide the demand will be invited along with those from supply nations.

In March at Fish Hoek in South Africa the City of Cape Town began a trial using shark nets on a particular beach off which there have been several shark attacks in recent years. Nets used further up the coast off Durban and other places in Kwa Zulu Natal province have attracted considerable criticism from wildlife conservationists. These are ‘catch' nets, and are responsible for the deaths of many marine species, including not only sharks but small cetaceans, sea birds, turtles and many others. The Aliwal Shoal and Protea Banks are favourite destinations for British divers so many of you may be familiar with these nets.

The new Cape Town net systems on trial off Fish Hoek are different as they are ‘barrier' not ‘catch' nets, which will be removed every night and re-installed each morning. It is hoped they will create safe swimming, snorkelling and diving zones. I will assess the results further in the autumn when I return to South Africa, and report again next year.

On Thursday June 6th I was a speaker at Selfridges at the launch of the Project Ocean Shark Parks initiative. This is a joint project between Selfridges and the Zoological Society of London (ZSL). The idea is to establish Shark Parks in various appropriate spots around the world, and the Shark Trust has been asked to consider being involved in the hoped for British Shark Park.

I did what I hoped was a hugely entertaining rip roaring eight minute speech, sipped champagne, and mingled with the guests, then just before 8.00 p.m. I caught a taxi to Paddington Station for my train to Cornwall. Only three or four minutes after I left six men wearing burkas and wielding axes burst into Selfridges and started hacking away at the armoured glass enclosed displays of Rolex, Omega, and other top end watches. One of the gang fell off his moped making his escape and others were also caught near the scene. Those who got away did so with over £1 million worth of watches. Double disappointment. I had missed out on being a “have a go hero”, and on being able to pick up a dropped Rolex Submariner!

In June scientists working for the Dyer Island Conservation Trust (DICT) based in Gansbaai, South Africa, published the first regional estimate of white shark populations using dorsal fin ID and automated software. White sharks have unique dorsal fins and over 20,000 side on shots of fins were taken between 2007-2011.

A computerised fin recognition programme called ‘Darwin' took three years to identify individual sharks and the results are causing great concern. Only 532 sharks were identified. Another programme called ‘Mark' extrapolated the population to be between 808 and 1008. Previously the estimate of the number of white sharks in Gansbaai was 2,000.

The global population of white sharks is thought to be between 3,000 and 5,000. This new study could indicate the figure is half what was previously thought, which brings possible white shark extinction into sharper focus despite being CITES Appendix II listed, and despite being 49 protected in several countries including South Africa, Namibia, USA, Australia, Malta, Croatia and others.

In the early summer a 4 foot long smoothhound shark narrowly avoided ending up in the soup. The shark became trapped in a storm drain in Portland Harbour, Dorset, and was spotted by a pair of Chinese immigrants. Coastguard Rob Sansom found the pair trying to catch the shark using a rod and line with mackerel as bait. They admitted they had designs on the sharks dorsal fin, and Mr Sansom asked them to leave while he waited for help from experts from the Sealife Adventure Park in Weymouth.

The shark had to be handled with great care as she was found to be a heavily pregnant female. Nevertheless Anna Russell and Jean Hibbitt were able to successfully catch and release her. The Daily Telegraph quoted Hibbitt as saying “The coastguard called us about the stranded shark and said she was in difficulty. They said there were some Oriental men there who wanted to fin her, so I went down there with a colleague and our intention was to try to move her somewhere safer. I was told the men wanted to cut her fin off and leave the body there, which you don't expect to hear in Dorset.”

I am writing this in July and the magazine will publish in the autumn by which time I'll be packing up to head to my winter home in South Africa. If any readers find themselves in the Cape area this winter and want help/ advice with shark diving please feel free to e-mail me.

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