Feeding sharks illegal and must stop now


POSTED: Monday, October 12, 2009

State and federal laws prohibiting shark feeding in the waters of Hawaii must be enforced and tours must be stopped.

The grassroots movement, Safe Waters for Hawai'i, has more than 40 community organizations coming together from every island representing surfers, fishermen, boaters, swimmers, paddlers, divers, environmentalists, hula halau, Hawaiian cultural practitioners and families with keiki who want our oceans to be safe for everyone.

The Honolulu City Council has now joined the call to action. It has gone on record stating it is the responsibility of state and federal agencies to police offshore waters. In those offshore waters the illegal activity of shark feeding is taking place. Shark viewing tour operators admitted to the City Council they feed sharks and use other attractants to bring sharks to the viewing cages. State and federal agencies must step in and stop the lawbreakers.

In a University of Hawaii study, scientists write of tour operators feeding sharks to bring the sharks to the viewing cages. Whether it be a little food, a lot of food, or any other attractant, it is illegal.

Illegal feeding modifies the natural environment for sharks and alters their behavior. National parks and marine sanctuaries prohibit feeding of wild animals. It is against the law to feed the bears at Yellowstone, to feed the lions in South Africa and to feed the fish at Hanauma Bay. Shark tour operators are illegally feeding the sharks at the North Shore of Oahu.

Feeding sharks also alters the natural food distribution in the ocean and upsets the ocean ecosystem.

In the United States, shark feeding for commercial viewing tours has been banned in Florida and California and most recently in Maui County. Shark viewing tours, where illegal feeding is taking place, pose a danger to the community and are disrespectful to Hawaiian cultural practitioners and Hawaiian spiritual beliefs.

Feeding sharks to catch them does not alter the behavior or distribution of sharks in the ocean. When the shark is taken there is no re-enforcement of behavior that leads to association of food to humans, and it does not alter the natural defenses sharks have with humans.

When sharks are fed, continually, every day, as they have been at the North Shore, their natural distribution, feeding habits and association with humans is modified, creating undesirable interactions between sharks and humans. This is not good for the sharks, and it is not good for ocean users who are not in cages during ocean activities.

What the shark tours offer is not education, but thrill entertainment, designed to elicit fear, excitement and awe, for the purposes of revenues and profits.

Safe Waters for Hawai'i is working with state senators and representatives on legislation for 2010 to strengthen existing laws so shark viewing tours and illegal feeding, which is inherent in shark viewing tours, will end.



George Downing is with Save Our Surf, and Ed Ebisu is a fisherman and a surfer.