The value of shark tourism and similar ‘non-consumptive’ uses of sharks has long been used to build a case for conservation-based management of this marine resource. And yet the figures used to compare the economic worth of these industries with the fishing of sharks, is a potentially misleading apples-and-oranges comparison, argues resource economist Chris Bova.
‘A lot of the research into the economic value of South Africa’s shark-based tourism tends to overstate the value the resource,’ explains Bova, with the University of Cape Town’s Environmental Policy Research Unit (EPRU).
For instance, shark tourism brings about R50 million into the economy of Gansbaai, a small town on the Cape South Coast which has become a hub for tourism operators who offer great white shark diving and viewing. Bova says these figures are calculated on the value of shark spotting or shark diving tours themselves, but also the surrounding economic spinoffs such as the accommodation, food and other related costs associated with the trip.
When these figures are compared with the ‘consumptive’ use of sharks - where the animals are targeted for commercial or recreational fishing, or caught as by-catch by fishing boats - their value is based solely on the price the fish fetches when it’s sold off the boat. Figures don’t include the added value of down-stream products, such as selling the animal’s skin, liver oil, or frozen steaks which are exported to Australia and the United Kingdom.
‘Each of these processes adds more consumptive value to the shark, and have the added benefit of creating jobs in the associated industries,’ Bova explains.
‘We should value this fishery more than we do,’ he concludes. ‘If we keep sharks exclusively for tourism- and conservation-type use, we remove the resource from the fishing sector. This will result in job losses and decrease profits. But if we over-fish the resource, then tourism will suffer.’
Bova, who hails from upstate New York in the United States and has been focusing on shark fisheries in South Africa since 2011, has spent the past two years researching the value of the tourism and production sides of the fishing industry, and hopes to have clearer figures to show the industry towards the end of 2014.
‘Sharks contribute significantly to local economies, whether it is in terms of their tourism and conservation uses, or how they are fished,’ he maintains, ‘we need to manage them accordingly.’
by Leonie Joubert