Boats that chum for sharks stir concerns
The deep-sea tours off Oahu are the focus of a meeting
Federal officials will be meeting with community members on the North Shore tomorrow night to discuss the possibility of limiting local shark tours in Hawaii.
Some scuba divers and fishermen have complained the tours attract more sharks to near-shore waters in the area. But tour operators say they are doing nothing wrong and that the sharks stay where they belong out in the deep waters.
The Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council is holding its informational meeting at Haleiwa Elementary School to solicit comments on possibly managing shark-viewing tours in all federal waters from three to 200 miles from Hawaii's shores. Discussion topics will include putting a moratorium on new shark tour operations and banning shark-viewing operations in federal waters.
"From what I understand, the shark boat operation throws bait overboard to attract the sharks, and the sharks get accustomed to the boats, to the sound of the motor, and as the shark boat goes back to the harbor, sharks would follow the sound of the boat," said Jacob Ng, a Haleiwa resident and member of the North Shore Neighborhood Board. "There's been a tremendous increase in shark activity in the area."
State law bans commercial operations from feeding sharks in state waters, which extend three miles from shore. The law does not prohibit shark-viewing activities that do not involve feeding the fish.
Jimmy Hall, owner of Hawaii Shark Encounter Tours, said his two boats are more likely to lure sharks farther out to sea.
"That's never been a secret. The sharks are attracted to the boat because we feed them. But they're attracted to a certain place, one certain spot, three miles offshore," he said.
The water at that spot is 500 feet deep, and the variety of sharks the boats generally attract live in water 100 to 400 feet deep, Hall said.
And at 20 mph, the boats are too fast for the sharks to follow them back to the harbor, he said.
Hall said his business emphasizes educating the public about sharks, which are struggling in the wild.
Joe Pavsek's North Shore Shark Adventures also has two boats. He said only a handful of people are targeting the shark tour businesses, and questioned the fishery council's jurisdiction in the matter.
The council is the policymaking organization for fisheries in the "exclusive economic zone," which stretches from the end of state waters three miles from shore to 200 nautical miles from shore.
Paul Dalzell, the council's senior scientist, acknowledged that there is a question as to whether the council could have a say in what the tours do.
"This is clearly not a fishery, but it is aggregating fish around a particular spot and fishermen use fish aggregating devices to catch tuna, ono and mahi and stuff. It's a bit of a stretch, but you could sort of make a connection there," Dalzell said. "Then the species of fish themselves are these sharks that are contained under our Coral Reef Ecosystem Plan."
However, Dalzell said it would be several years before the council could come up with any recommendation because of the cost and research involved.