Sharks and stingrays caught off South Australian jetties are being mutilated and thrown back into the water alive, fishers and scuba divers say, prompting calls for more humane treatment of the animals.
- The seabed beneath SA jetties often contains the mutilated carcasses of sharks and rays
- Some fishers are cutting off tails and fins before throwing the animals back into the water alive
- The actions have sparked calls for more humane treatment of rays and sharks
The calls come after a one-metre-long southern eagle ray was left partially filleted on Brighton Beach last week, sparking criticism from some members of the community.
Chemical engineer and divemaster Daniel Kinasz, who dives at jetties across the state, said he had witnessed sharks and rays being mutilated, killed and dumped countless times.
WARNING: This article contains images that some readers may find distressing.
Among distressing sights he said he had seen were sharks and rays having their fins or tails cut off before being thrown back into the water alive, hooks and long lengths of line being left in an animal’s mouth, unwanted fish being left to suffocate and rot on jetties, and a female great white shark being cut up and thrown into the water.
“You even see parents encourage their children to actively harm them.
“It’s not uncommon to hear someone say, ‘Cut the tail off for Steve’.”
This is a reference to the late television personality Steve Irwin, who was killed by a stingray’s barb that punctured his heart during the filming of a documentary in 2006.
As a divemaster, Mr Kinasz regularly takes visiting photographers and cinematographers, such as renowned IMAX director Jonathan Bird, to dive sites under SA jetties to see the spectacular scenery.
But he says the seabed is often littered with the carcasses of dumped animals.
“I’m showing international guests around who have come to look at what we have, and they’re coming from all over the world to a place where, yeah, we have a culture that accepts the murder of these defenceless animals,” he said.
“I also think we should be protecting them a bit more and reconsidering what species are targeted.”
The only shark that has protection in SA waters is the great white and the state’s stingrays are not protected at all.
To be killed quickly and ‘humanely’
A spokesperson for the Department of Primary Industries and Regions said there were about 65 different species of rays and sharks in SA, with the Port Jackson, gummy, school and bronze whaler sharks the most commonly caught, along with southern fiddler and southern eagle rays.
“Recreational fishing for sharks and rays from a boat, jetty or shore is a popular activity in South Australia, with most of the fisheries adopting catch and release practices,” he said.
The code outlines a need for the “respectful and ethical treatment of animals, including fish destined for release or consumption”.
It stipulates that animals that are to be retained should be killed immediately on landing with a “firm blow to the head”, or by “pithing its brain with a sharp implement”.
Fisher criticised for stingray treatment
The attention given to the dead eagle ray at Brighton last week has prompted a young fisher to claim responsibility for it on a social media page devoted to shark and ray fishers.
He said that while some fishers release them, he wanted to try eating his “first ray” and, after cutting off its tail, killing and filleting it, he dragged it out into waist-high water adjacent to the jetty.
There was no suggestion he treated the ray inhumanely, but the fisher was robustly criticised by others on the page, who said he should have harvested more of the eagle ray and disposed of the carcass properly.
“What that guy did was wrong, as far as I’m concerned,” a fisher called Matt said.
A ‘strict’ code among fishers
Matt said there were a lot of “bogans” out there with different opinions, but fishers from his group were “strict” about how they caught and treated animals to avoid both “unnecessary suffering”, and wasting food.
“You take the whole lot and you dispose of it wisely,” Matt said.
“You don’t just leave it on the beach for people to see it.
He added that shark fishing from beaches should be banned because some fishers were “chumming up the water a bit to get them to come in”.
“The majority of the people are fine and there’s a real strictness to do the right thing, because we don’t want to lose our privilege,” Matt said.
Advice on handling
PIRSA offers guidelines on handling sharks and rays for release, recommending that they are freed immediately and preferably without being removed from the water.
The guidlines say a soft, knotless net should be used for landing if the ray or shark is small, and they should not be placed on a warm or dry surface.
Lines should be cut from as close to the hook as possible, care should be taken not to squeeze a shark’s gills, and a soft wet cloth should be placed over the animal’s eyes to help keep it calm.
“Once landed, resuscitate the animal by running water across the gills,” PIRSA’s website reads.
This can be done with buckets of seawater, but also by moving the animal slowly forwards in the water.
PIRSA warned people to keep their hands behind the line of a shark’s pectoral fins to reduce the chance of being bitten, and not to touch the tail of a ray, or stand within its radius, to avoid being struck and stung by its venomous barb.