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Africa

Réunion island officials order shark fishing after eighth attack

media Surfboards are stacked on the ground during demonstration on the Island of La Réunion after Alexandre Rassica died following a shark attack where the animal bit off his leg while surfing Reuters/Laurent Capmas

The authorities on the French Indian Ocean island of Réunion have ordered the capture of 20 sharks after a series of attacks that have cost three lives this year. But, despite panic over shark attacks on the island, they say they will make no attempt to keep numbers down.

A professional shark fisherman will be commissioned to catch about 20 bull and tiger sharks, prefecture official Xavier Brunetière announced after a meeting of local politicians and specialists on Monday.

The decision followed Sunday’s attack, the eighth in 20 months, that left a surfer seriously injured in the right hand and foot,

“The operation does not aim to control the shark population because it will be impossible to say when security can be assured,” Brunetière said.

The exercise will try to establish if any of the sharks are carrying toxins that could lead to ciguatera, a foodborne illness caused by eating certain reef fish.

Surfers’ groups argue that a ban on the sale of bull shark because of the risk if ciguatera has led to the fish’s proliferation.

Although the operation will be carried out according to guidelines issued by Overseas Territories Minister Victorin Lurel last week, Brunetière pointed out that the bull shark is not a protected species and that professional or amateur fishermen are therefore allowed to fish it.

Other measures proposed included:

  • An appeal to notify the authorities of shark sightings to help set up a map of their distribution;
  • Speeding up the already exisiting programme of marking 80 sharks by researchers, who have already marked 20, so as to monitor their habits and their distribution;
  • Increasing the number of shark lookouts at surfing sites.

Brunetière said that officials regretted the fact that they only learnt that a shark had been caught on Sunday near the site of the evening’s incident after the attack had taken place.

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