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Saturday, August 11, 2012
French island approves shark harvest

By Keith Hamm

This photo shows Boucan Canot beach in the Reunion island, a French oversea territory in the Indian Ocean. France says it will pay fishermen who kill bull sharks in waters off the French Indian Ocean island of Reunion, following a spike in shark attacks.

Recent back-to-back shark attacks off the coast of Reunion Island have surfers spooked and authorities ready to kill and study resident man-eaters in an effort to better understand the region's bull and tiger sharks.

Earlier this week, officials in France, which governs the Indian Ocean island, announced that local fisherman will be hired to harvest some 20 sharks but refused to launch a full-blown regulated cull of the growing populations of sharks throughout Reunion's numerous surfing hotspots.

Angered by the recent attacks, about 300 islanders, many of them surfers, demonstrated in front of the central police station, demanding that multiplying shark populations be kept in check.

"You cannot imagine the number of spots where nobody is surfing now," Reunion native and ASP World Tour surfer Jeremy Flores said in a recent interview. "We as surfers know that there are more and more sharks than ever in Reunion Island. Our fishermen friends have confirmed this for two or three years."

On July 30, Alexandre Rassica, 22, died after a shark completely severed his leg while he was surfing off the beach at Trois-Bassins. On August 5, 40-year-old Fabien Bujon narrowly survived an attack off Saint Leu. Bujon reportedly lost a hand and a foot during the mauling.

Victorin Lurel, France's overseas minister, said that studies are necessary to understand why these shark species have targeted humans of late and also to investigate the source of a toxin found in the sharks' flesh that leads to severe food poisoning in humans. Hunting bull and tiger sharks is legal in Reunion, but locals contend that because of the toxin, fisherman no longer harvest those species, which has caused their populations to flourish.

According to the International Shark Attack File (ISAF) there were 75 unprovoked shark attacks in 2011, down from the 81 unprovoked attacks recorded in 2010. Twelve of those attacks were fatal. Approximately 30 to 70 million sharks are killed each year, either for their fins or in commercial fishing nets, according to ISAF.