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Requins à La Réunion

-une tragédie moderne-

George Burgess, the "sharks pope"

If you’re looking back at the shark fishing history[1] of the United States of America, that's where you’ll first find the name of G. Burgess.

In Jan. 1978, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), and the Fisheries Service of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), wanted to promote commercial shark fishing industry, as this species was under exploited at the time.

In the early 80’s, the NMFS & the «Florida Sea Grant Office» even went as far as doing a publicity campaign so as to advertise shark fishing to the general public, but the slow start of the nascent industry did require the help of a proper fishing policy nonetheless.

To that effect, in Feb. 1985, the Florida Sea Grant published the "Manual of shark fishing”, and one of its authors was none other than… George Burgess himself !

In the late 80’s, the NMFS was still going “all out” to promote the shark fins trade, but all of a sudden (in 1993), they completely changed their policy and decided to implement tough fishing restrictions, before banning shark finning altogether.

In 1996, George Burgess advocated to the NMFS to reduce the fishing quotas by 50% while admitting at the same time that this would in effect destroy the shark fishing industry.

Burgess and other ave been consulted since the ealier 1990 in Recife.
  The ocean has been closed there since 1995, and there have several dozen of fatal shark attacks since


In 2002, the «Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission», with the support of George Burgess and the Dr William Alevizon, followed the path of the NMFS by reducing fishing quotas by up to 50% too.

That was a death blow dealt to the shark fishing industry, destroying the livelihood of hundreds of families & shutting down a business that they themselves created & promoted only 10 years earlier.

Nowadays, George Burgess is very popular amongst the “pro shark” world scientific community, as he’s at the forefront of the movement blaming all shark attacks on human behaviors and/or factors, while clearing sharks of all responsibilities.

As put by H. E. Sawyer, a British diver who investigated the scandal of the “eco business” & “green washing” related to the shark conservation for 2 years[2]: “When the media wants an expert on ready-made ideas & clichés about shark attacks, G. Burgess is undoubtedly the reference indeed”.

He goes on further by saying that Burgess is essential for shark’s conservationists and all those who “do not run the risk of being attacked or being bereaved by shark attacks”.

Burgess is indeed fiercely opposed to any lethal risk reduction methods (nets, drum lines, fishing), his motto regarding shark attacks invariably being “wrong place/wrong time” (thus inducing that shark attacks are somewhat more or less unavoidable).

His opinion being based on a list of data collected from previous attacks (instead of trying to scientifically analyze/understand the specifics of each new situation), it allows him to conclude that in all the attacks, each & every triggering elements are from human origin (therefore releasing the shark’s liability).

One of his main “argument” since the early 00’s regarding unprovoked attacks is the increased number of peoples in the water, linked to the increase in seaside tourism & water based activities.

That’s the exact same explanation he gave to justify the 12 fatal & unprovoked attacks that happened in 2011 in his «Shark attack file» (a yearly report & a world reference of its kind).

He even went as far as saying that “most of fatalities occurred in remote places, where medical help was scarce, both in quality and quantity, and not readily available”.

He then went on to name both Seychelles & Réunion Island as examples of this “theory” (those 2 small countries totaling a staggering 4 deaths toll in 2011).

For him, the reason behind those deaths weren’t due to the seriousness of the attacks themselves, but were due to the lack of modern & efficient first aid & medical assistance in those remote islands, “lost in the Indian Ocean”…

Those words were obviously taken as an insult by the medical corps in Réunion Island (a French overseas territory) where the whole health system in general, and the Emergency response Units in particular are as modern & efficient as in any European/western country.

Furthermore, you have to bear in mind that France prides itself on its health system, accessible to all for free, something which is far from being the case in the USA…

Now regarding Seychelles (and although the beach of Anse Lazzio is indeed a bit remote) one of the victim in Aug. 2011, Ian Redmond, was actually brought back to beach and assisted by no one less than a surgeon.

Unfortunately, what could have he done, considering the extent & the seriousness of the horrific bites on the atrociously mutilated body of Mr. Redmond ?

Likewise, in Réunion Island, despite immediate & professional medical care, the severity of the injuries left no chance of survival to the victims, faced most of the time with extensive & multiple bites (with the flesh being ripped-off from the body)[3].

In the case of Mathieu Schiller, his body was never even recovered, taken away by the sharks, right in front of his lifeguard friends, and only a few yards away from the beach…

Therefore, how to explain that such a renowned specialist can express himself with such ignorance, except for the sole purpose of serving, in any circumstances, the shark’s cause ?

Anyway, the damage was done, and his yearly report (although deeply biased) was spreaded around worldwide by the medias, thus convincing once more the general opinion.

It is worth noting that Burgess also voiced a strong opposition toward shark’s culls as an answer to the string of fatal attacks back in 2011.

To him it was a “misguided” answer because:

-        “it’s unlikely that the shark was the sole responsible of the situation which led to the attack”

-        “it’s almost impossible to locate & target the shark involved in the attack”

-        “it’s a waste of time and money to try and indulge in one’s lust for revenge”


Indeed, in August 2013, Burgess even dedicated a tribune[4] and held a press conference from Florida to denounce the decision taken by the French state to proceed with its fishing project of 90 sharks.

He called it "an unprecedented massacre, unworthy of an enlightened country like France" (!!!)

Burgess is also never short of an explanation, like when (back in 2011) his home state of Florida escaped from any fatal shark attacks (unlike other places during this dreadful year), he came out to say that it was because “less peoples went to the beach”, due to “the economic downturn”…

About Burgess “explanation”, H.E.Sawyer goes on to say: “there was less peoples in the water back in 2011 indeed, but the economic downturn had nothing to do with it.The real reason, was a major oil spill (Deepwater Horizon) which Burgess should have been able to see from the window of his office in the Museum of Natural History of Florida, as it was even visible from space!!

This was the biggest oil spill in history, with the equivalent of 5 million barrels of crude oil dumped   at sea, devastating marine habitats, fishing grounds and tourism on about 800 km of contaminated coastline (including Florida).

Nonetheless, not a word about «Deepwater Horizon» from George Burgess, as the oil & gas industry is heavily financing shark conservation worldwide through their many “eco-friendly” charities, and one should not “bite the hand that feeds” indeed.

It's an open secret that shark conservation has been infiltrated & taken over by entities with an agenda that has nothing to do with protecting sharks, but everything to do with acquiring large shares of our greatest natural resources (including oceans). They only use sharks as a “respectable & eco-friendly” cover/forefront so as influence and control states policies and public’s opinion[5]”.

Burgess ‘report for 2012 (like all his reports before) was widely distributed in the media worldwide, spreading out again his time proof, ready-made ideas and clichés about “more people in the water equals to a greater likelihood of shark attacks”.

The report also singled out Australia and Réunion Island as “hot spots” for shark attacks.

Once more, Burgess tried to point fingers at Australia for its culling campaign following an unprecedented string of 14 attacks, calling it a “massacre perpetrated to reassure a public misled by media’s morbid interest for shark attacks”.

Indeed, for Burgess, the situation in Australia was nothing short of “normal” (!!!)

As for Réunion Island, he talked about it in more “measured” terms, mentioning some changes (probably of anthropogenic origin) which might have had contributed towards more man/shark “interactions”.

Obviously, for him, man was the sole culprit, citing the usual litany of pollution, urbanization, overfishing, etc… In short, it was everybody’s fault, except the sharks (what a surprise... NOT !!)

In April 2014, I personally went to an international meeting in Recife, Brazil, where I vehemently questioned him about his positioning.

I then showed some tangible proofs about all the harm he was doing to us by conveying erroneous and/or exaggerated ideas about our very particular situation.

During that same meeting, he was also heckled by some Brazilian members of the local beach community, tired of listening to his nonsense for 20 years, despite the uninterrupted succession of fatal attacks in Recife over the same period.

Since then, he has been quiet about Réunion Island, maybe realizing the weight (and potential wrongs) of his publications[6] ?

Recife Brasil international workshop 2014, April. Left to right : Jean François Nativel (Réunion, author of "Sharks in Reunion island, a modern tragedy"), Georges Burgess, Neyfy Safo (Recife, fire chief who acts as coroner), Jeremy Cliff (South Africa, Natal shark board)

Reunion island tragedy explanation session

[1] “The Shark con” movie, 2010, http://www.sidewaysfilm.com/the-shark-con/. Bill Goldschmitt has published in 2010 « Sharkman of cortez ». He is considered as one of the best shark fisher on Earth. Main character of the movie, he was among the first people to denounce manipulations made by NGO concerning sharks, similar to a real business. http://sharkmanofcortez.com/

[3] « Expertise médicolégale des victimes d’attaques et de morsures de requins à la Réunion » (Sharks attacks and sharks bites victims in Reunion forensic expert assessment) A. Werbrouck, forensic medecine magazine Elsevier Masson (August 2014) 5, pages 110—121

[4] This opinion column will be used for the local newspaper « Journal de l’île de la Réunion » front page, August 20th of 2013 edition. The front page heading was « chasse aux requins : la Réunion montrée du doigt dans le monde » (sharks hunting : Reunion denounced worldwide)

[5] In the heavyweight category, here is PEW, based on petroleum company Sunuco. They are not earning money with sharks but they are developing their ‘oceanic estate portfolio’ creating a shark refuge and natural marine reserves. Some of those are as big as Saudi Arabia. Marine resources are part of the biggest interest for those fundations. About 25% of the non-discovered petroleum and gas reserves are in oceans) http://www.hesawyer.com/shark-attack.html

[6] After a three-years truce, he has tried to counter Kelly Slater regarding his controversial declaration pros shark cull, the ay after the death of Alexandre Naussac, February 21st of 2017 http://www.theinertia.com/surf/culling-sharks-wont-protect-surfers-heres-exactly-why-not/