Fish Hoek is the only beach in Cape Town with a shark net because it has had a number of shark bite incidents. Since 2004 there have been two fatalities and one very serious bite when a man lost his leg (in 2011). There have also been a number of close calls, where surfskis were bitten and people had encounters with sharks.
In October 2011 there were 55 shark sightings at Fish Hoek in one month…It’s the best swimming beach in Cape Town, I would say, but it had this stigma as being “the shark beach”.
Traditional shark nets are designed to catch and kill sharks. Exclusion nets, like the one used in Fish Hoek, just prevent sharks from entering an area. The City of Cape Town’s approach to shark attack prevention is that you must protect people but you must also protect sharks and the environment, and one mustn’t be at the cost of the other. At Fish Hoek we get humpback whales and southern right whales in the middle of the bay, so we didn’t want to put anything in the water that would potentially entangle whales, dolphins, or anything else.
We deploy the exclusion net at Fish Hoek in the summer time, from the October school holidays through to Easter (March/April). In October we just do school holidays and weekends. From November to March we try and put it up every day, but it’s weather dependent — when the wind is too strong or the swell is too big we don’t deploy the net. We aim to have it up for about 20 days per month.