Reducing humpback dolphin bycatch in the shark nets in KwaZulu-Natal, South Africa: past, present, future
Shanan Atkins, Mauricio Cantor, Geremy Cliff and Neville Pillay
Indian Ocean humpback dolphins are endangered and bycatch in KwaZulu-Natalâ€™s shark nets (set to protect bathers from sharks) continues to be a concern, though mitigation actions are being taken by the KwaZulu-Natal Sharks Board. Bycatch statistics have been examined; 236 humpback dolphins have been caught since 1980, most of them at one of 38 protected beaches, Richards Bay. Overall, bycatch in KwaZulu-Natal has declined with a reduction in fishing effort in the province. However, there has not been a significant decline in bycatch rates over time at Richards Bay, though progress has been made. A net loss of humpback dolphins was evident at Richards Bay, at least partially due to mortality in the shark nets, which possibly affects the wider population. Attempts at mitigation using pingers were not successful but changing gear (setting baited hooks instead of gillnets) has had a measurable effect. Currently the issue is being viewed more holistically as a human-wildlife conflict, rather than just a bycatch issue, and stakeholdersâ€™ perceptions of the bather protection system are being examined. In the future, non-lethal methods of protecting bathers are desired and requires the support of local, provincial and national government.