MOSSEL BAY, South Africa (CBS News) – A South African fisherman has reportedly become the first person fined by his country for breaking a law against catching great white sharks.
Leon Bekker pleaded guilty to catching the shark in March 2011 as he fished from the rocky shore of South Africa’s great white-infested Mossel Bay. The cost of his trophy photographs ended up being a roughly $13,000 fine, handed dow this week by the Mossel Bay Magistrate’s Court. It was that or a year in prison, according to Australia’s Cape Times.
South Africa banned the catching, killing or possession of great whites, a species which has been at risk of extinction, in 1991, but it took 21 years for the first conviction to be handed down.
Until now, the Times reports, fishermen had generally avoided prosecution by arguing they had no idea what beast was on the sharp end of their tackle until it was too late.
Bekker also defended his actions in court by arguing he had caught the great white unintentionally, but said he pleaded guilty to avoid wasting court time.
Shark expert Alison Kock told the Cape Times the court’s ruling should effectively quash the innocence-by-ignorance argument used by anglers.
“It’s got rid of that grey area. You need very specific heavy tackle to catch white sharks and you should not be using it in known great white hot spots,” she told the newspaper, calling it a “great outcome.”
Shark advocates and environmentalists have long argued that it should be illegal to use the heavy tackle required to reel in a great white in areas where they are prevalent.
The judge, with this decision, seems now to have set a legal precedent in agreement with that view.