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Savagery at sea

by Aly Verbaan
on 04 Jun 2008
Peoples Post
Peoples Post

Sadistic slaughter of sea creatures, gun shots at dawn and eyewitness intimidation - this is apparently a daily occurrence just off our shores and indeed, those of the entire country.

Cape fishermen are accused of clubbing and shooting seals and sharks to death, as well as cruelly maiming them and leaving them to die every day. According to those in the fishing and maritime industry this has been going on for decades and the government is not only not doing anything to stop the carnage, but tacitly condoning it.

Last Tuesday an eyewitness sent a harrowing email to People's Post describing the killing of at least eight seals and a shark the previous weekend off Olifantsbos near Cape Point, a protected marine reserve. The sender of the email wrote under the name "Bill Fish", saying that he fears for his and his family's safety should his real name be revealed. His identity is known to People?s Post and it can be assured that he is a respected member of the southern suburbs' community.

In his missive (see page 13) he tells how snoek fishermen on a number of boats launching from Hout Bay used rifles to kill seals that were competing with them for fish. One was apparently hooked in the mouth and then beaten "approximately 100 times until the seal's head split open" and then "cut free to sink into a pool of blood".

A shark was also hooked, stunned and its tail cut off before both the maimed shark and its tail were thrown back into the water.

The writer of the email has since received threats of being beaten up should his identity be discovered. And this incident is by no means an isolated one.

According to several people, only a few of whom are prepared to speak on the record, fishermen, who generally regard seals as a threat to their livelihood, carry guns to sea specifically to kill them.

Bruce See, director of the Comet (Coastal and Marine Eco-Tourism Corporation) in Claremont told People's Post that such behaviour at sea is "common knowledge" and that while killing seals is illegal, trying to do anything about it is "fighting a lost cause".

Chris Fallows, a great white shark tour operator in Muizenberg, said that he frequently sees seals with gunshot wounds on his excursions at sea. Fallows condemned the shootings as "inhumane", saying that Marine and Coastal Management (MCM) should at least be outlawing weapons on boats.

But, according to those opposed to seal slaughter, MCM, a division of the Department of Environmental Affairs and Tourism (DEAT), is where the problem lies.

While seals are not an endangered species - they are in fact overbreeding - they are protected in terms of the Marine Living Resources Act (1998) as well as the Sea Birds and Seals Protection Act (1973). In 2003, then deputy director of MCM, Horst Kleinschmidt (now of the Sea Shepherds Conservation Trust) also promised to prosecute anyone caught shooting seals and encouraged witnesses to come forward with evidence. And yet, since 1973, no one has been arrested or convicted in this province for killing a seal. Some, like controversial Hout Bay seal crusader Francois Hugo, contend that MCM in fact rewards seal killers by way of a cash payment.

MCM marine research assistant Deon Kotze concurs that it does offer a R200 reward for tagged seals - that is, seals with scientific research tags attached to them - that drown in fishermen's nets. Kotze was adamant that this does not encourage fishermen to drown seals deliberately, and that MCM would not accept seals that had been clubbed, stabbed or shot. "It must be a fair drowning", said Kotze.

MCM spokesperson Carol Moses, however, said she was not aware of such rewards, and condemned the killing of seals by fishermen. Riaan Aucamp, spokesperson for the minister of environmental affairs and tourism, Marthinus van Schalkwyk, refused to answer any questions regarding the slaughter of seals.

Meanwhile, a substantial cash reward for information that could help identify and track down the culprits is in the process of being set up by anonymous donors. Any information can be emailed to seals@live.co.za.

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