South African fisherman becomes first person ever to be convicted of killing a white shark
The following just received from Andy Cobb in South Africa...
A South African man has become the first person in the world to be convicted of killing a great white shark after he hooked one while fishing from the shore. Leon Bekker, of George, Western Cape, pleaded guilty to contravention of the Marine Living Resources Act which includes attempting to kill, disturb or be in possession of a white shark without a permit. Bekker pointed out that he had no idea at first that he'd hooked a white shark but he pleaded guilty so as not to waste the court's time.
Catch: Fisherman Leon Bekker poses with the white shark he caught off the South African coast
But in a landmark decision Mossel Bay Magistrate's Court handed him a fine of R120,000 (£8,550) or a 12-month prison sentence, suspended for five years. The unprecedented case is the only white shark conviction in a South African court to date - the first country to impose legislation in protecting great white sharks. White sharks have been protected in South African waters since 1991 and no person is permitted to catch them, or even to attempt to catch them.
Penalty: In a landmark ruling, Bekker was fined £8,500 under the Marine Living Resources Act
But for years anglers who landed the sharks were able to successfully argue that they had not been targeting whites. Environmentalists believe the ruling sets a new precedent in that anyone using heavy-duty fishing tackle in an area where white sharks are known to inhabit is effectively breaking the law. Shark scientist Ryan Johnson, who appeared as an expert witness in the case, welcomed the verdict. He told the Cape Times: 'A lot of law enforcement officers were reluctant to prosecute because they knew it was difficult to prove the anglers had targeted white sharks. 'This prosecutor analysed the law and said as anglers fishing with heavy equipment in an area known for white sharks, they would have a reasonable expectation of catching white sharks, and so just by fishing with that equipment in that area they are in effect breaking the law.'
Photographs of Bekker giving a thumbs-up sign after hauling the shark onto the rocks, sparked an angry outcry after they were published in the paper two years ago. However photographs of anglers posing with dead white sharks are not uncommon and there is an on-going illegal trade in white shark body parts such as jaws, which fetch a very high price. Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries spokesman Lionel Adendorf said: 'This is the first white shark case and conviction in any South African court. We are certain that the sentence will serve as a deterrent.'
Bekker pleaded guilty saying he did not want to waste the court's time but pointed out he had no idea he'd hooked a white shark at the time
Although white sharks have been protected in South Africa since 1991, there is evidence to suggest that they continue to be targeted by recreational fisherman as a trophy species
The World Wildlife Fund welcomed the ruling. Spokesman Dr Eleanor Yeld Hutchings said: 'This is the first legal case, and conviction, around the catching of a white shark in South Africa. 'For authorities to take such clear action is an excellent indication of their commitment to upholding protected species status.' The not inconsiderable sentencing of Leon Bekker will hopefully be a deterrent to these practices in South Africa. As far as I am aware, this is also a world first in terms of prosecution for harming a white shark.'
The white shark was caught on the shore near the city of George on South Africa's Cape
Photographs of Bekker hauling the shark onto the rocks, sparked an outcry in South Africa after they were published two years ago