To feed or not to feed?
It’s a question that dive boat operators and avid divers alike have been debating for years, and now, the question is about to make its way to the US Federal Government.
A new bill has been recently introduced into Congress that would make the practice of feeding sharks illegal in all US waters.
The bill, which is also known as “Access for Sportfishing Act of 2016,” has the following provisions in Section 3 of S.3099 which briefly outlines the ban:
“it is unlawful for any person—
“(1) to engage in shark feeding; or
“(2) to operate a vessel for the purpose of carrying a passenger for hire to any site to engage in shark feeding or to observe shark feeding…
Later on in the bill, the definition of the term “shark feeding” is also expanded.
…The term ‘shark feeding’ means the introduction of food or any other substance into the water to feed or attract sharks for any purpose other than to harvest sharks.”
The bill is in response to the practice of boats that specialize in shark dives using chum and cut bait to attract sharks to a particular region of water, making it far more likely for humans and scuba divers to see them.
Supporters of shark feeding say that allowing scuba divers to interact closely with the sharks helps dispel misconceptions and myths on a large scale that sharks are deadly and ferocious 24/7.
They also say that using bait or chum is sometimes the only way to attract sharks to a certain area. This ban may lead to drastic effects on dive boat operators’ livelihood.
In other words, if there are no sharks around, the dive boats can’t make a living.
People who back and support the bill attest that allowing divers to interact with sharks by feeding can lead to unexpected dire consequences.
Primarily, introducing chum and other food into the water as a method for attracting sharks can change their feeding behavior, and can cause sharks to associate humans with food.
As a result, not only will the sharks’ natural behaviors change to potentially unknown effects, but they’ll be more likely to approach humans in the waters in search of food, which can cause its problems for swimmers or divers who don’t necessarily want to get up-close-and-personal with a passing shark.
The bill is still in the very early stages of being passed if it indeed does go through. It was introduced to the senate on 6/23/16, and still has not yet been scheduled for a vote.
Divers who are curious about the bill and who want to track its progress can do so here.
Some states have already banned shark feeding in surrounding waters, like Florida. It’s not clear how this bill will apply to American citizens in foreign waters and American-owned companies that are shark feeding outside of US waters.
In the meantime, the debate continues among scuba divers on whether to feed the sharks. The acceptance or rejection of the new bill will put a (temporary) halt to the debate… at least for a little while.