Shark nets in KwaZulu-Natal : an evaluation of catches and alternatives

Doctoral Thesis


Permanent link to this Item
Journal Title
Link to Journal
Journal ISSN
Volume Title

University of Cape Town

Protective gillnets (shark nets) have been successful in reducing the frequency of shark attacks on the coast of KwaZulu-Natal (KZN), South Africa. This is achieved primarily through a reduction in numbers of large sharks. The nets also take a by-catch of dolphins, sea turtles, batoids and teleosts.Catch rates of most shark species declined initially but have shown no trend since the mid-1970s. Turtle and teleost stocks do not appear to be threatened by net mortalities, but there is concern about the sustainability of catches of the humpback dolphin. Certain batoids may have declined despite a high release rate. A published contention that shark netting has resulted in a proliferation of small sharks through reduced predation is re-examined and considered to be exaggerated. Reduced predation on dolphins, as a result of shark netting, is estimated. Considerably less fishing effort is applied in the shark control programs of New South Wales and Queensland, Australia, than in that of KZN. On the basis of a comparison of factors such as the nearshore physical environments and trends in shark catch and catch rate, it is concluded that the number of nets used in KZN could be reduced. To test whether a 70 cm mesh would continue to capture potentially dangerous sharks, while at the same time reducing by-catch, a gamma distribution model was used to determine length-specific selectivities in 50.8 cm and 70 cm mesh nets respectively. A reduction in relative selectivity from 81 to 25 for a shark of 1.6 m PCL would result from an increase in mesh size from 50.8 to 70 cm. Despite a probable reduction in catch of dolphins .and certain other by-catch species, the introduction of the larger mesh would constitute an unacceptable reduction in levels of bather safety. Baited lines, or drumlines, were tested as possible alternatives to gillnets. They demonstrated greater species selectivity for sharks, including a higher catch of two of the target species, Carcharhinus leucas and Galeocerdo cuvier, and also a reduced by-catch of nonshark animals. The probability of the bait being scavenged, or a shark being caught, was modelled in relation to a number of physical factors. Although there were insufficient data for a quantitative comparison of catch rates between nets and drumlines, the results indicated that an optimal solution may be to deploy a combination of nets, using the existing 50.8 cm mesh, and drumlines, using 14/0 shark hooks.

Bibliography: p. 147-160.