Council committee shelves shark tour ban on jurisdictional issue


POSTED: Thursday, October 08, 2009

Cage-diving shark tours off Oahu will be allowed to continue after a City Council committee deferred a proposal to ban such activity.

After discussing the proposal privately with city attorneys, Council Chairman Todd Apo said members were advised to defer the matter because the city does not have jurisdiction.

State and federal officials should look at enforcing existing laws that govern activities in offshore waters, he said.

Councilman Charles Djou, chairman of the Executive Matters and Legal Affairs Committee, who introduced the proposed ban, was the only member to oppose tabling the measure.

Shark tours take customers more than three miles offshore, outside state waters, and lower them in steel cages for a view of sharks in a natural environment.

;  Several dozen people on both sides of the issue packed the Council's committee hearing room to testify.

Supporters of shark tours argue the businesses provide jobs, attract tourists and have operated for years with clean safety records. Opponents take issue with feeding, or “;chumming,”; that is used to attract sharks to waters closer to shore than normal, risking public safety.

Federal law prohibits using food to attract sharks unless they are being caught or killed for human use, or if the actions are being done to support research purposes. Violators face fines up to $140,000.

Two tours — North Shore Shark Adventures and Hawaii Shark Encounters — operate three to four miles off the North Shore in federal waters.

“;Something that has been working for years without an injury-type incident is evidence we can't just ignore,”; Apo said.

Bill 67 was introduced this year after a businessman announced plans to operate shark tours in Maunalua Bay, off East Oahu. Plans were scrapped after public opposition.