Shark Hunting Debate Creates Division in French Pacific Archipelago

Tourism in New Caledonia is suffering due to swimming bans, which authorities attribute to a rise in shark attacks. In response to seven fatal shark incidents over the past five years, the French Pacific archipelago has declared open season on sharks in an effort to restore beach safety.

However, environmentalists are advocating for the protection of sharks, claiming that the government’s directive to cull them has resulted in indiscriminate killing and harm to marine life. The population of New Caledonia, located approximately 1,200 kilometers east of Australia, is divided between those advocating for forceful removal of the shark issue and those urging a more cautious approach.

The sudden increase in shark numbers and attacks since 2018 remains a mystery. While local authorities have been conducting shark fishing campaigns since 2019, Mayor Sonia Lagarde escalated these efforts after closing several beaches this year as a precautionary measure.

Romain Paireau, Noumea’s secretary-general, emphasized that they are not against sharks but are striving to reduce the risks to their country’s tourism sector as visitors return after COVID-19 restrictions.

The authorities are targeting tiger sharks and bulldog sharks, which are considered among the most dangerous shark species. Martine Cornaille, president of the association Ensemble pour la Planete (Together for the Planet, EPLP), expressed concern about collateral damage among even harmless shark species and criticized the culling strategy as environmentally irresponsible.

Cornaille conveyed her opposition to the shark culling campaign in a letter to the journal Nature. The city has pledged to release accidentally caught fish, but Cornaille believed that the campaign, which has killed 250 tiger and bulldog sharks since 2019, amounted to a “massacre.”

Even some shark attack victims have called for a more thoughtful approach, emphasizing the need to understand the reasons behind the increased shark presence in Noumea’s bays. Brigitte Do, who survived a shark attack in January and spent months in an Australian hospital, urged a scientific exploration of the phenomenon.

New Caledonia’s indigenous Kanak people also oppose the anti-shark campaigns due to the sacred status of sharks in their culture and their belief that sharks are integral to the ecosystem, according to Kanak assembly president Yvon Kona.

Meanwhile, city officials are planning to install a giant net in the sea to protect an approximately 10-hectare area from shark incursions. They argue that this will allow the shark hunt outside the protected area to continue at a reduced intensity.

The EPLP association has filed legal complaints against the authorities, accusing them of hunting sharks without an official mandate, hunting in protected areas, and removing tiger sharks and bulldog sharks from the list of protected species. Despite gaining support among the population, environmentalists lament a communication blackout from political authorities despite formal requests for a meeting.

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