THE FRENCH Government has introduced tighter regulations to combat the use of live dogs and cats as shark bait on the French-owned Indian Ocean island of Réunion.
As reported previously in OUR DOGS the French actress turned animal rights campaigner, Brigitte Bardot, brought the outrage to the world’s attention following a report in Cicanoo, a leading newspaper on the island that a six-month-old puppy was found with hooks in its nose and one of its legs.
"It is imperative that the government does something to end this practice," Bardot said in a letter to Francois Baroin, the minister for French overseas territories. "Unfortunately these are not isolated incidents."
It is understood that stray animals are rounded up by native fishermen for the purpose of dangling the live animal in the water in order to attract sharks. A graphic photograph of a young dog with a large, thick fishing hook in its mouth was released by the Foundation, although some doubt has been cast on the photograph’s authenticity.
It is believed that in the absence of a photograph of an actual dog used as bait a photograph of a stray that had accidentally hooked its mouth whilst foraging for fishing bait was used instead. It has been observed that a large hook in a dog’s lips would soon tear free, especially if the dog’s weight was pulling on the hook in the sea or if grabbed by a shark.
The UK’s RSPCA was said to be "shocked and appalled" at the use of live animals as bait in shark fishing on Réunion and called on the French Government to outlaw the practice, after launching a petition which garnered close on 100,000 signatures.
So far, only one fisherman has been prosecuted for using live dogs as shark bait. Jean-Claude Clain, 51 walked free from court in Réunion in late September after being given a three-month suspended prison sentence after being convicted of cruelty.
Recently, language student Kathryn Nawrockyi (daughter of Dog Theft Action Co-coordinator Margaret Nawrockyi) wrote to the French Government to register her family’s protest at the barbaric practice. Miss Nawrockyi duly received a reply from Michel Cadot, the Head of Cabinet at the French Ministry of Agriculture and Fishing, in which M Cadot pointed out that more stringent regulations have been put in place to clamp down on the practice.
As translated by Ms Nawrockyi, M Cadot writes:
You have brought to the attention of Mr Dominique Bussereau, Minister of Agriculture and Fishing, the use of dogs as live shark bait by fishermen in the département of la Reunion.
The use of dogs as live bait for game fishing is considered an act of cruelty under the title of article 521-1 of the penal code.
It seems that the press regularly gossips about such practices, but concrete or conclusive facts are generally rare. One such proven case was recorded in 1999 and tried in 2000 by the higher level court of Saint-Denis.
I have asked that any suspicion is subjected to an immediate enquiry by the veterinary services and that every fact obtained is brought to trial. The veterinary services are particularly watchful of the possible zones in breach.
The State Prosecution, which is aware of these practices, also carries out operations for tighter control in fishing and sailing ports. One alleged perpetrator of these practices was taken in for questioning on 28th September 2005. Tried immediately in court, he was sentenced to 3 months suspended prison sentence and a 5000 fine.
I can therefore assure you that all services of the State have been particularly mobilized to act on these cruel practices, which nonetheless remain extremely marginal. Exemplary sanctions will be imposed on the perpetrators of such acts, in order to curb any such reoccurrences.
Head of Cabinet, Ministry of Agriculture and Fishing"
Animal welfare group Sea Shepherd has said that it will pay £680 to any Réunion police officer that catches a fisherman baiting a dog.