A small broadnose sevengill cowshark approaches

Letter for sharks – follow up

A few months back I wrote to both the Minister of Environmental Affairs (Edna Molewa) and the Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (Tina Joemat-Pettersson) regarding shark finning activity and trade in South African waters, and the protection of broadnose sevengill cowsharks. I received a letter acknowledging receipt of my letter from one of the ministers (it was so exciting I’ve forgotten which one – I think it was from Ms Molelwa’s office).

In a stroke of genius (I think), prompted largely by following Helen Zille on Twitter and seeing how engaged and responsive many of her minions are, I also wrote to the DA Shadow Ministers with the portfolios mentioned above. These Shadow Ministers have no ministerial powers as such, but are assigned to particular portfolios and as opposition MPs generally give their corresponding government ministers a hard time.

Gareth Morgan, the Shadow Minister of Water and Environmental Affairs, was so good as to put my concerns to the minister of agriculture, forestry and fisheries (Ms Joemat-Petterson) in a Q&A in parliament. Her response was the following:





Question 3225 for written reply: National Assembly, Mr G R Morgan (DA) to ask the Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries:

(1)   Whether there is any (a) legislation or (b) regulations that prohibit shark finning; if not, why not; if so, what are the relevant details;

(2)   whether she intends to ban the (a) sale, (b) export, (c) import of shark fins and (d) any other products derived from shark fins; if not, why not; if so, what are the relevant details;

(3)   whether her department intends placing Broadnose Sevengill Cow sharks under a similar protection afforded to white sharks; if not, why not; if so, what are the relevant details? NW3837E


(1)   Yes. Shark finning, in other words the removal of fins and discarding of the shark trunks at sea is currently prohibited in fisheries where such practices have occurred or are likely to occur. Due to the high value of pelagic sharks caught by the Large Pelagic Longline Fishery, fishers are encouraged to land sharks with fins attached. If fins are not attached to the trunks then the dressed-weight ration shall not exceed 8% of trunk weight. Conditions attached to the issuing of permits regulate the afore-mentioned.

(2)   Currently there is no intention by the Department to ban the sale, export, or import of shark fins and other products derived from shark fins. The FAO Committee on Fisheries (COFI) developed in 1998 an International Plan of Action for the Conservation and Management of Sharks (IPOA-Sharks) within the framework of the Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries to which South Africa is a signatory. The objective of the IPOA-Sharks is to ensure the conservation and management of sharks and their long-term sustainable use, with the following specific aims: The IPOA-Sharks calls for maximum use of dead sharks, therefore whilst sharks are being targeted or caught as by-catch, all products including fillets, cartilage and fins will be utilized.

If research indicates that the finning of sharks is a common occurrence then the legislation regarding finning will be re-examined.

(3)   The department is looking into the feasibility and consequences of placing the Broadnose Sevengill Cow Sharks under similar protection afforded to White Sharks. Currently there is no scientific evidence to suggest that Broadnose Sevengill Cow Sharks are overexploited. However, as the value of the fillets is low it might be argued that a greater usage of Broadnose Sevengill Cow Sharks would be for the eco-tourism market where animals may bring in considerable income if responsibly and safely managed.

Other concerns include the accumulation of mercury and other metals. Mercury is bio-accumulated and concentrated through the aquatic food chain especially in large predatory fish such as Broadnose Sevengill Cow Sharks. Mercury exposure has been linked to neurological diseases and cardiovascular effects in adults, and mental retardation and cerebral palsy-like symptoms in newborn infants exposed to MeHg through the placenta. On the other hand, reported catches of Broadnose Sevengill Cow Sharks are currently low (<5 t per year) and do notappear to be unsustainable. These catches provide consistent data for long-term analysis. If catches of Broadnose Sevengill Cow Sharks are stopped, the ability to monitor the long-term abundance of cow sharks are decreased. All these factors need to be included in such a decision.

This is not particularly encouraging news, and there’s a distinct lack of concern evident here. However. This gives direction to future lobbying (read: harrassing government ministers by mail) efforts. Please feel free to write your own letters on any aspect of this that you feel strongly about. The more pressure that is exerted to obtain protection for sharks in South African waters, the better. You can even put on your bikini while you type your letter… I won’t judge!

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Lapsed mathematician, creator of order, formulator of hypotheses. Lover of the ocean, being outdoors, the bush, reading, photography, travelling (especially in Africa) and road trips.

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