After killing seven people over the past five years, sharks are enemy number one in the French Pacific archipelago of New Caledonia where the authorities have declared open season on the species in the hope of making beaches safe again.
On this issue of a shark cull across the overseas territory, the population is divided between those who want the problem removed by force and those urging caution.
Environmentalists, for their part, are on the side of the sharks, saying the local government’s order to cull the animals has led to indiscriminate killing and has harmed marine life.
No one is sure what prompted the sharks to arrive in unusually high numbers in the bays around the capital Noumea, and to attack humans in 10 recorded incidents since 2018.
The local authorities have been running fishing campaigns targeting sharks since 2019, but after closing several beaches as a precaution this year, mayor Sonia Lagarde stepped up the fight.
The authorities say the wellbeing of their country’s tourism sector is at stake, just as visitors are returning after years of Covid-19 restrictions.
“We’re not anti-shark,” said Romain Paireau, Noumea’s secretary-general told local media, “But we must reduce the risk.”
This comes as local authorities say they are targeting tiger sharks and bulldog sharks – considered to be among the most dangerous shark species – but Martine Cornaille, president of the Together for the Planet Association (EPLP) said that the collateral damage among even harmless shark types is unacceptable.
“Culling as a response to attacks on humans is irresponsible in environmental terms,” she said in a letter to the journal Nature.
The city has promised to release any fish caught accidentally, but Cornaille has said she believed that collateral deaths of the campaign which has killed 250 tiger and bulldog sharks since 2019 amounted to “a massacre”.
Protection measures, legal battles
Even some shark attack victims have urged the authorities to back off.
“Often the first response of humans is to attack, to kill, to show that we are superior to everything around us,” said Brigitte Do, who spent several months in an Australian hospital after a shark attack in January.
“What we should do instead is try to figure out what is going on,” she told a local television station last month, adding, “there must be a scientific explanation.”
New Caledonia’s indigenous Kanak people are also opposed to the anti-shark campaigns because the species has a sacred status in their culture which sees sharks as an integral part of the ecosystem.
Meanwhile, city officials are planning to install a giant net in the sea to protect an area of some 10 hectares from shark incursions.
They say this will allow the hunt for sharks outside the parameter to continue at a lower intensity.
However, the EPLP association has filed legal complaints against the authorities, accusing them of hunting sharks without an official mandate, hunting in protected areas, and dropping tiger sharks and bulldog sharks from a list of protected species.
https://www.rfi.fr/en/france/20230911-controversial-shark-cull-makes-waves-in-new-caledonia-after-deadly-attacks Controversial shark cull makes waves in New Caledonia after deadly attacks