SAINT-DENIS DE LA REUNION, France (Reuters) - France will hire professional fishermen to kill some 20 sharks off the Indian Ocean island of Reunion this week in an effort to understand the reasons for a series of attacks in the surfing hotspot.
Two surfers have been attacked by sharks within a week. One narrowly survived the loss of a hand and a foot in a mauling on Sunday while the other died from his injuries last Monday.
Officials in the town of Saint-Leu, near a popular surfing spot where Sunday's attack took place, called on authorities to cull populations of tiger and bull sharks which they say have multiplied in the past year.
Some 300 locals and surfers, angered by the attacks, demonstrated in front of the French island's central police station demanding the sharks be culled.
France's overseas minister has refused a regulated cull, saying scientific studies must be conducted before hunting is allowed, to try to understand the source of a toxin in the sharks' flesh which leads to severe food poisoning.
Hunting bull sharks - known to attack humans - and tiger sharks is allowed in Reunion, but fishermen have avoided them because of the toxin, and locals say this is why they have flourished.
In addition to the surfer's death last Monday, two people were killed by sharks last year, in June and September, prompting local authorities to step up monitoring.
Shark attacks have been on the rise elsewhere in the Indian Ocean, especially in Australia. Surfers are often the victims.
(Reporting By Bernard Grollier, writing by Nick Vinocur, editing by Tim Pearce)