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Shark Info 4 / 01   (12-15-2001)

Author

  Intro:

Tragedy

Shark Info

  Main article:

Hammerhead tragedy on Fuerteventura

Volker Berbig

  Article 1:

Ban on feeding sharks in Florida

Dr. E. K. Ritter

  Article 2:

Controlled shark diving in South Africa

Andrew C. Cobb

  Article 3:

Frequently asked Questions

Shark Info

  Fact Sheet:

Smooth Hammerhead Shark

Dr. E. K. Ritter


Ban on feeding sharks in Florida

By Dr. Erich Ritter

At its last annual meeting in Key Largo on November 1, 2001, the Florida Wildlife & Conservation Committee (FWCC) issued a ban on skin diving excursions organized to feed sharks in Florida's waters, effective as of January 1, 2002.

Background

More than two years ago a small group of four harpoon fishermen submitted a petition to revise a law and ban scuba diving excursions for the purpose of feeding sharks.

They argued that sharks which were fed became increasingly aggressive, thus increasing the danger that bathers - and harpoon fishermen - could be bitten by these animals. Numerous meetings were held in which both advocates as well as opponents to shark feedings were allowed to voice their opinions. Based on the facts presented at these meetings the FWCC then decided that such shark feedings must be regulated. It thus had diving tour operators work out some regulations which in a later phase would be examined by the Committee. Representatives from the diving industry and scientists joined forces to found the Global Interaction Marine Experience Council (GIMEC) which in turn established a protocol covering all problematic areas.
In the Spring of 2001, the protocol was submitted to the respective national organization, the Florida Marine Research Institute (FMRI), for examination. However, the FMRI changed all regulations contained in the protocol to such an extent that it would have prevented any of the four diving tour operators from continuing such excursions. Thus, at their next meeting on September 6, 2001, in Amelia Island, Florida, the diving industry was forced into rejecting the proposed changes which they termed unacceptable. The Florida Wildlife & Conservation Committee argued, however, that these guidelines had been proposed specifically to help meet the needs of diving sponsors by evading a longstanding Florida law forbidding the feeding of wildlife. This is where the FWCC revealed its true interests, for such a law is only valid within certain limits which, for example, exclude anglers who use bait to catch their prey.

Does feeding sharks lead to accidents?

The essence of the shark diving opponents' and the government's argumentation was that sharks which are fed react more aggressively, change their behavior and hence increase the danger for bathers. The Committee was hardly impressed by the fact that to this day, none of the specified points could be scientifically confirmed. The starting position for the last meeting in Key Largo was clear: the high number of shark accidents in Florida was used as an alibi to call for a ban on shark feeding.

The end?

The stage in Key Largo was set for a highly charged meeting. The situation was underlined even more by the presence of the police, together with representatives from the press and television. Gathered on one side were about 15 supporters of the ban on shark diving, and on the other more than 200 divers dressed in T-shirts underlining their opposal to such a ban. Although the matter was already decided, the protocol called for both sides to express their opinion one more time. Despite the fact that it was a lost battle for shark diving supporters, they used the time to at least point out possible legal consequences to the FWCC.

Angling - the reason for shark accidents in Florida

In all discussions the primary argument of those supporting a ban on shark feedings was the relatively high number of shark accidents in Florida, which they considered harmful to tourism and must thus be prevented. The tragic death of Jessie Arbogast in Pensacola on July 6 was mentioned more than once. But representatives of the Global Shark Attack File (GSAF, Princeton, New Jersey) were able to prove that this accident was caused by anglers fishing nearby rather than by shark feedings. Generally, GSAF representatives underlined that most accidents in Florida could be attributed to anglers. Accordingly, they also pointed out that if the Committee ignored the true cause then they would soon have legal problems, warning that in 2002 it would only take one accident caused by anglers to trigger the initiation of legal steps.

Is shark diving necessary?

Environmental tourism has gained strong significance within the last few years. This form of leisure activity blends fun with comprehension of environmental issues, a combination whose importance is continually increasing when it comes to preserving the natural environment. Shark diving is a form of environmental tourism. When people dive with sharks they can observe them in their natural surroundings where they quickly learn that these animals are not the insidious monsters which they are often depicted to be. Shark diving gives a broad segment of the population a better understanding of sharks and thus contributes directly to the protection of these animals and their natural habitat.

Conclusion

Ever since September 11, 2001, many vacation spots have been fighting to survive. The tourism industry in Florida - the vacation state of the U.S. -also had to face quite a number of setbacks and its loss of the attractive shark diving business will certainly make these problems even more acute. Still, even if the ban actually goes into effect on January 1, 2002, the matter is not settled because the wild animal committee has already been sued.

* Dr. Erich Ritter Chief Scientist, Global Shark Attack File, Shark Research Institute, Princeton

May be published only by indicating the source: Shark Info / Dr. Erich Ritter



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