Great white shark fisherman convicted in South Africa

Feb 7, 2013

'World first' as fisherman who landed an eight-foot killer is given a suspended jail sentence

SOUTH AFRICAN fisherman Leon Bekker has become the first person in the world to be convicted of killing a great white shark, in a move welcomed by scientists and environmentalists.

Bekker, from Western Cape, was given a suspended one-year jail sentence by magistrates in the coastal town of Mossel Bay, two years after he landed the eight-foot shark while fishing from rocks on the shore.

It is the first time anyone has been convicted of killing one of the endangered sharks since it was outlawed in South Africa 22 years ago, and environmental charity WWF called it a "world first".

Bekker, who posed for pictures alongside his giant catch, pleaded guilty to the charge even though he pointed out that he had no idea what was on the end of the line when he got a bite in March 2011.

However, shark scientists have welcomed the decision and, according to the Cape Times, they believe the case could stamp out shark hunting. "Essentially what the court found was that anyone using heavy fishing tackle and 'big bait' in a known white shark area is guilty of breaking the law," the paper reported.

"You need very specific heavy tackle to catch white sharks and you should not be using it in known great white hot spots," said scientist Alison Kock. "It's a great outcome."

The South African government also welcomed the verdict and Eleanor Yeld Hutchings of WWF South Africa told the Daily Mail: "For authorities to take such clear action is an excellent indication of their commitment to upholding protected species status."

She added that it was "a world first in terms of prosecution for harming a white shark".

The conviction comes after officials in Western Australia announced plans last year to kill great whites that strayed too close to beaches after a spate of attacks on surfers and swimmers earned the state the unwanted title of 'shark capital of the world'.

Although great whites are a protected species the authorities can order a 'catch or kill' order if a shark is regarded as an 'imminent threat'. The first such order was issued last month when several large sharks were spotted near beaches in the state. However, the hunters were unable to locate the predators, reported ABC.

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