Following a shark attack on the April 12th 2015 which involved a 13 year old boy, Elio Canestri, who was a member of the “Pôle Espoir” (Regional Technical Center) on Reunion Island, and following a visit to the Island by Jean-Luc Arassus, President of the French Surfing Federation (FFS), he, along with the Director Comettee of the French Surfing Federation have issued this media release.
Firstly, the FFS expects collaborative human intellect will resolve this issue; provided that neither transgression nor twisted analysis of the situation occurs.
The FFS denounce the scurrilous messages that call for the massacre of sharks. Above all we are surfers and we respect the ocean, never will the FFS call for the massacre of marine animals.
The FFS stands by surfers and users' associations of the sea, which fight for a return to normal in Reunion island. In the pretext of the saving of certain species of sharks, which are not protected in this case, Reunion Island cannot become a sanctuary of sharks-bulldogs, who ruined the original ecosystem. It is a matter of the life of its inhabitants, its children.
Reunion Island’s sharks
- 50% of deadly shark attacks in 2015 are concentrated along a… 30 km stretch of beach on Reunion Island.
- This was the sixteenth shark attack in the Island’s waters since 2011. Seven attacks have been deadly (5 surfers and 2 swimmers) and three others have resulted in severe mutilation. It is the second deadly attack this year. Two months ago, on the February 14th 2015, a 20 year old woman was the victim of a deadly attack by a Tiger shark whilst swimming some meters off the shore of Etang-Salé. The last attack against a surfer before the one against Elio was on the July 22th 2014 at the surfing spot of Saint-Leu. A 51 year old surfer was bitten on the calf and the right wrist.
- All these attacks have been centred along a 30 km coastline of west Reunion, previously unaffected before 2011. Five attacks have been blamed on Bull sharks and another two on Tiger sharks.
- The species involved in these attacks are the Bull and Tiger shark, two species which are neither threatened nor protected.
- In four years shark attacks have had serious repercussions on surfing the coastal waters of Reunion Island. The number of surfing licenses has gone from 1600 in 2011, the year that saw the sudden increase in attacks, to only 400 licenses today.
The April 12th 2015 attack
- The young Elio Canestri (13 years old) was attacked whilst surfing with six friends 50 meters off the coast of “Les Aigrettes” (surfing spot) and 500 meters from the most popular beach in Reunion, “Boucan Canot”.
- He was attacked an hour and a half after the start of the session.
- He was attacked after having taken a wave and he was therefore alone and isolated from the group, a well-known profile for shark attack.
- The fact that some consider Elio responsible for this attack the FFS finds unacceptable.
- A child of 13 year when forbidden from doing something is more likely to try to do it in secret.
- Only education and better understanding will lead to effective prevention.
The abnormally high presence of sharks off Reunion Island
- According to a scientific study dated on May 13th 2013 conducted on behalf of the Prefect of Reunion Island, there is ‘an imbalance, an abnormal high density of aggressive large sharks in the infested waters off the west coast of Reunion.’
- When we talk about a shark found off Reunion, we are talking about an extraordinary predator. Anecdotally, the number of Bull sharks has increased markedly over the past 10 years. We cannot say that the increase isn’t exponential.
- The sale of Bull and Tiger shark is banned due to the risk of their flesh containing a toxin (Ciguatera). Since 1999 and the beginning of this ban, there has been no reported cases of such intoxication on Reunion Island, despite the local population continuing to consume these sharks.
Scientific Research on Reunion Island
- The FFS supports shark research programs led by the Institute for Research and Development (IRD) while asking the Institute to make every effort to minimise the time it takes to find a usable result.
- The management of time and the efficiency of information collection (reliability of tags and markings) must be improved.
- The FFS and surfers of Reunion Island take an active role in improving these research studies.
- The FFS are demanding that all recent innovations such as electromagnetic radiation, are fully explored.
The banning of nautical activities and swimming off Reunion Island
- The FFS points out that Reunion is the only island in the world where swimming and surfing are banned due to ‘the abnormally high presence of particularly aggressive sharks’ according to shark specialists.
- Today the ban on swimming and surfing is justified while safety measures are being put in place however, this will take some time. The FFS demands that this time be reduced.
- Surfers are citizens and respect this ban. They are very careful. There is a territorial problem which depends on barriers and fishing.
- The FFS demands that its surfers respect the surfing ban.
Tiger shark fishing, April 17th
- The FFS President went fishing (as does hundreds of thousands of professionals and tourists, every day, all over the world) with a competitive big game fisherman on Saturday april 17th off the coast of Reunion Island. The Fisherman was also a former elected member of the Reunion Surfers League, father of a surfer, a French champion and member of the French Team.
- The FFS President took part in catching a 400 kilos Tiger shark, a species neither threatened nor protected.
- This type of sports fishing is authorised.
- Traditional fishing has existed for 40 000 years and has never threatened the survival of a species of fish as opposed to industrial shark fishing, a practice that the FFS condemns.
- These traditional fishing techniques are embedded in the cultural heritage of Reunion Island.
- The FFS President said : “This wasn’t a punitive exercise. I would be wrong to underestimate the fearsome capacity of this predator shark by claiming beforehand our ability to catch it at will. We caught a 4 meter predator weighing 400 kilos but the emotion provoked by this catch is unlikely to move me in anyway similar to the events of this past week.”
- Following the catch, remembering that this species is not protected, the President Jean-Luc Arassus, has received physical threats.
- The FFS has indicated that following the fishing trip on the 19th April, the State caught 6 Tiger sharks between 2.5 and 4 meters under the scheme “Cape Shark”. Two other Tiger sharks had been caught by the State just before.
- Regular and targeting fishing remains an essential condition for regaining control of the territory abonned to the sharks during these past 15 years.
Economic impact of the shark crisis on Reunion Island
- The FFS points out that before the series of attacks which started in February 2011 there was 17 surf schools on Reunion, today there is only one. This school provides a Stand Up Paddle course in the Hermitage Lagoon.
- The shark crisis has struck many and has been catastrophic for all Reunion’s economic activities including, tourism, restaurants, hotels, nautical activities, diving, etc.
- At least 25 000 tourists in 2012.
- At least 30 000 tourists in 2013. No official figures are yet available for 2014 but estimates range between 10 to 18% les tourists compared to 2013.
The French Surfing Federation’s critics
- The FFS has not waited for these events to happen before supporting the protection of threatened species.
- The FFS will propose to other countries such as South Africa, who catch 600 sharks per year with 40 km of gillnets, to collaborate together in order to improve all procedures.
- In France, where we catch 25 tonnes of sharks per day, this controversial fishing delays the implementation of targeted measures aimed at lifting the ban on waterborne activities along the 30 km stretch of Reunion’s west coast.
- The FFS points out that it defends the world’s marine life and natural sites and cannot be accused of wanting to ruin nature.
- The FFS points out that Reunion’s surfers have helped to write a Prefectural decree aimed at protecting the Reef shark whose environmental role is tangible, unlike that of the Bull and Tiger sharks. While many occupy themselves on social networks, reunion’s surfers assure real environmental action.
- The FFS underlines that it will never endorse the massacre of sharks. The FFS regrets that some persons have deliberately sought to confuse industrial fishing which, in France, catches more than 20.000 tonnes of sharks per year for commercial ends, and fishing by traditional means as carried out by the fishermen of Reunion.
- The FFS is keen to point out that traditional shark fishing off Reunion represents 1/1.000.000 of the world’s traditional fishing.
- The FFS stands alongside surfers and associations of ocean users who are fighting to return Reunion back to normal. Reunion Island cannot become a sanctuary for Bull sharks, which have ruined the original ecosystem, on the pretext of safeguarding sharks species that are not listed as protected. This would not be in interest of the Islands’ inhabitants nor its children.
- The FFS can no longer tolerate that the safety of those using the sea is put at risk by improper statements.
- The FFS can no longer tolerate that the memory of surfers killed or mutilated be trampled by insulting statements.
Shark management on neighbouring islands
- After two deadly attacks in 2011, the Seychelles Government instructed local fishermen to restart coastal shark fishing and for islanders to revive their consummation of shark meat. Since 2011, the Seychelles have introduced a sustainable and traditional shark fishing industry which is governed by quotas that are annually adjusted based on the rate of catches.
- The consumption of Bull and Tiger shark is not banned on Mauritius, only 200 km from Reunion, nor on the French Department of Mayotte Island, which lies only 300 km from Madagascar, an island where the toxin Ciguatera is rife.
- South Africa catches 600 sharks per year and uses 40 km of gillnets along its coastline centred on public beaches. This system has been in place for more than 60 years.
Shark management and the International Surfing Community
- The FFS points out that on Wednesday 5th March 2014 a Great White shark measuring 3.5m was caught and killed because it loitered around Snapper Rocks (Australian Gold Coast), location of the Quiksilver and Roxy Pro, international surfing competitions. According to Jeff Krause, responsible for the Australian shark control program : “The successful removal of this dangerous shark from a popular swimming beach was particularly important given the Quiksilver Pro surfing competition currently underway at nearby Snapper Rocks’.”
The future of Reunion Island surfing
- The FFS will fight to ensure that ‘Pôle Espoir de Surf’ (Regional Technical Center) continues on Reunion. 50% of France’s surf team train on Reunion waters.
- Surfing has a future in Reunion. It is inconceivable to imagine Reunion Island without surfers. Surfing is an economic tool for the Island and therefore we must find a solution to this current shark crisis.
- On Monday April 20th, following his visit to Reunion, the FFS President met with State representatives in Paris. There is a strong possibility that substantial aid will be available to allow training on mainland France or elsewhere overseas, for the surfers of the ‘Pôle Espoir’.
Threats from Sea Shepherd
- This NGO organisation founded and led by the animal rights activist Paul Watson, which was ousted from Greenpeace for its counterproductive activities, is currently wanted by several states but resides in France where it has political asylum.
- Therefore Sea Shepherd operates from France and has recently made the Reunion shark crisis its latest propaganda tool.
- This NGO is omnipresent in the media.
- On its website, Sea Shepherd vows to protect marine biodiversity all across the world. From the outset of Reunion’s shark crisis, where marine life is an important issue, Sea Shepherd has never felt concerned by industrial overfishing, illegal fishing, the traffic of rare species, incidental catches of cetaceans, sharks, turtles, pollution, the almost disappearance of the Reef shark, major development work etc.
- The only position of this NGO is to promote itself, sell its image, and lead a vendetta against those they call ‘asshole surfers’.
- For several days now, active members of this NGO have led a campaign of defamation against the FFS via social networks, email and our partners. These insults and even threats have been made by those who put the life of a fish before that of a human.
- This NGO has no scientific or technical committee of experts that would ensure it published verified information.
- This ONG is also at war with Europe Ecology, the Green Party, the French Federation of Underwater Studies and Sports and the Reunion Island Regional Committee of Underwater Studies and Sports.
* People who have left this NGO:
Elizabeth May, Head of Canada’s Green Party.
Steven Guileault, Canadian Ecologist.
Murray Bookchin, American philosopher of social ecology.
François-Xavier Pelletier, Ethnocetologue, director, photographer and writer.
Florentine Leloup, former President of Shark Angels France, now known as Shark Citizen. She denounced the activities of Sea Shepherd as ‘harmful’.
Several requests have been made to the French Government to reconsider the political asylum granted to the leader of this NGO.
Requests made to the French Government
- The FFS request a targeted fishing effort as advised by experts.
- The FFS request the rapid implementation of a plan to enhance the shark watchtower system.
- The FFS request physical barriers are installed as quickly as possible.
- The FFS congratulates the different communities of west Reunion Island particularly the City of St Paul, where the last deadly attack took place, for the measures they have taken. Nets must be installed by September. These ‘new generation’ nets are 700m long and reach from the surface to deep and, unlike gillnets, do not trap or capture all types of fish.
- The FFS requests that these nets as proposed by Mr Patrick Florès, elected member of St Paul, arrive within two months to be assembled and installed in Reunion Island waters.
Philippe Mespoulhé, Doctor of Marine Biology in Reunion: ‘Some species of more than 3 meters that have been identified as settled in the area, represent a clear threat to the ocean’s users and should be controlled. For the survival of our oceans we must certainly accept the presence of sharks (who are neither cruel nor bloodthirsty) in order to preserve the general balance of the environment. However, controlling an animal population that poses a problem must remain a conceivable solution’.
Bernard Séret, Researcher at the IRD: ‘The Reservation is not the cause of the attacks. We cannot have a water park and a marine life reservation in the same space. We will have to make a choice.’
Bertrand Baillif, professional fisherman of Reunion Island: ‘We have protected the shark but today there is an overpopulation problem. We know there is overfishing off the coast that forces the sharks closer to shore. During night fishing, we lose 30% of our fish to sharks.’
Jérémy Florès, No 1 French surfer and Reunion Island native: ‘From generation to generation there has always been fishermen. Then ecologists arrived from elsewhere and stopped fishing in a 10 km stretch where all the recent shark attacks have taken place.’
Gérard Romiti, President of Reunion Island National Committee of Fishing : ‘There are many methods available but sharks must be fished by professional fishermen if we are to regulate this problem. It is a difficult debate. The fisherman must be seen as a sentinel of the sea. I feel we may be close to a human catastrophe.’
Alain Hoarau, shark fishermen of many generations: ‘Before we would catch up to 6 or 7 sharks per week. Today, I see ten times more, if not a hundred times.’
The FFS would like to take this opportunity to congratulate the different communities of Reunion Island, particularly the City of St Paul where the last deadly attack took place, for their actions following this tragic attack and the subsequent measures they have taken to ensure the safety of everyone concerned.