Surfing banned on Reunion because of non-threatened fish. Absurd?
The bull shark is a real son of a bitch. Eats anything. Dogs. People. Turtles. Dolphins. Other bull sharks. Won’t let go either. You can belt it in the snout, jam your fingers into its eyes, rip at its gills, but it ain’t gonna release those jaws. The bull, or zambezi or whatever you want to call it, is indestructible. Lives anywhere, freshwater, saltwater, ocean, river, shallow, deep.
Endangered? Threatened? Not even close.
On a scale of one to seven, with seven being extinct, the bull shark comes in at the second-lowest rung, Not Threatened, just above Least Concern.
Oh you’ll find them everywhere. Up the Mississippi, in the Gold Coast waterways, Sydney Harbour, in the Amazon, Maryland etc, and, pointedly, as masters of the marine reserve in Reunion Island.
Reunion is a pretty volcanic island of almost one million people off the east coast of Africa. Lives off sugar exports, mostly, as well as the benevolent hand of the largely socialist French state. Richest island in the Indian Ocean.
A decade ago, a twenty-kilometre marine reserve was created along Reunion’s west coast. Preserve the environment? A no-brainer, right? Except like a lot of well-intentioned government policies, this one loosed a hell of a problem.
As Jeremy Flores told me a couple of years back after a rash of fatal shark attacks.
“From generation to generation there were always fishermen and then people from overseas, environmentalists, came and they stopped fishing in a 10-kilometre area where all the shark attacks are now happening… By the time they stopped fishing the sharks didn’t have anything to fear anymore so they started coming and now it’s dead territory. They ate everything. There is no more life. There is no more turtles. There is no more fish. No more nothing. No more reef sharks. Because the bull sharks have eaten everything. And now, because there’s nothing left to eat, it’s the surfers”
The movie Jaws? It was based on a two-week period on the Jersey Shore in 1916 when it was most likely bull sharks (or maybe Whites) fatally attacked four swimmers.
The situation on the ground in Reunion is loony. Surfing is banned on all but two netted beaches. Swim or surf outside of the nets and there’s a good chance you’ll die.
The teenage kids of some pals of mine have RIP this and RIP that scrawled in texta all over their schoolbags. It took me a while to realise they weren’t saying their pals were shredders but had been killed by sharks.
You heard, read, the hysteria after Kelly Slater gently suggested it wouldn’t be the end of the world to fish bull sharks after Reunion’s twentieth shark attack since 2011, eight of ‘em fatal.
“I won’t be popular for saying this, but there needs to be a serious cull on Réunion and it should happen every day,” said Slater. “There is a clear imbalance happening in the ocean there. If the whole world had these rates of attack nobody would use the ocean and millions of people would be dying like this. The French government needs to figure this out ASAP.”
When Elio Canestri was killed in 2014, I called Jeremy again.
“All these sharks, bro, fuck, it’s the real deal,” said the Reunion-born WSL surfer. “Perfect waves. Sunny day. Eight kids in the water and the shark attacked in the middle of everyone. Can you imagine that? Can you imagine how those kids feel?”
Jeremy’s mom phoned him an hour after the attack. Her friend lives in front of the break. Saw everything.
I can’t tell you how many times I surfed that place by myself,” said Jeremy. “When I heard it was a young kid, thirteen years old, I started shaking. I could picture myself at the same age, frothing with all my friends, just trying to get a surf. On Reunion, it’s a small surfing community, everyone knows each other, and I’ve lost some really close brothers to shark attacks, but this time, to be a thirteen-year-old, one of the best surfers on the island, with all his life in front of him. To die like that, so young, is terrible.”
The following year, Jeremy flew to Reunion for two weeks to see old pals and family. The surf pumped. And he didn’t touch his surfboard.
“It wasn’t worth it to take the risk. It took a long time for people to realise how bad the situation is. People thought it was like everywhere in the world. But, right now, we have the world record for attack.
Jeremy ain’t down for environmental slaughter, he loves the ocean, and said he’s “aware that sharks are everywhere and that I could get attacked. But on Reunion Island, “it’s a 50-50 proposition.”
From a local.
“There are so many sharks in the water, it is traumatic,” said Gilbert Pouzet, 55, who has surfed in Réunion for 30 years, told the IB Times. “Sometimes, I go down to the waves and I am not sure whether to go in the water or not; 80 percent of the time I go back home. Most of the time they strike from the side and take your hip and leg. They sever the femoral artery so you bleed to death in two minutes. The tiger shark will sometimes take an arm or a piece of leg and go away. But the bull shark becomes mad and finishes you off. When the bull sharks attack, they come to kill.”
Of course, in a world where everyone signals their virtue on Facebook and whatever else, Slater’s balanced, and intelligent, response, was twisted to mean he demanded the worldwide eradication of sharks.
He didn’t. No one does.
But on Reunion where a non-threatened fish has the population standing terrified on the shoreline, and grommets killed when they sneak off for a surf, the greatest absurdity is it’s even an issue to fish bull sharks in the marine reserve.
They’re fished everywhere else. Australia. The US. Africa. Everywhere. Killed. No tears. No snowflakes weeping over their status updates on Facebook.
Even better, the bull shark tastes good, as long as you skin ‘em quick before the ammonia is released. Cook in garlic butter and ginger, wrap in alfoil, serve with a crisp Margaret River white.