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July 2001 Vol. 16, No. 7   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Shark Feeding Debate Continues in Florida

Dive industry fares opposition

from the July, 2001 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

As we reported last October, Floridas Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWCC) proposed last February to ban dive operators from feeding sharks, citing a range of environmental concerns and potentially more shark attacks on unsuspecting people.

Their action sparked a hot debate and heavy involvement by dive industry interests that wanted to protect the economic value of shark feeding. What better way to attract divers!

Subsequently, in September, the Commission ignored its own previous, unanimous recommendation. Instead, it didnt approve the ban, but urged the factions to work together to recommend responsible conduct of organized marine feedings.

At the May Commission meetings, the dive industry put forward guidelines produced by the Global Interactive Marine Experiences Council (GIMEC), an entity formed by Florida marine feeding interests and others. GIMEC has the stated purpose to assist in marine life conse rvation efforts and to provide a process for the development and distribution of recommended guidelines and best management practices for marine life interactive experiences.

GIMEC reportedly developed its guidelines in consultation with dive operators, operator associations, environmentalists, marine biologists and shark behavior experts, several of whom now serve on GIMECs Florida Board of Directors and Advisory Board. Absent were any members of the faction that supports a ban. The recommendations were purported to provide basic recommended content, techniques, and procedures for conducting safe and enjoyable marine life interactive experiences, and can be viewed at: www.scubadiving.com/GIMEC.

Undercurrent tried to learn more about GIMECs structure, function ands goals, from contact John Stewart, the director of marketing for the Dive Equipment and Marketing Association (DEMA), the organizing force behind the anti-ban effort. Stewart refused to be interviewed , he told us, because we printed such a horrible distortion of the industry side of the argument in our October article. (Judge for yourself: you can find the story at Undercurrent. Click on recent issues in the banner and go to October 2000.)

In any event, the FWCC was less than impressed with GIMECs efforts. Concerned that these recommendations did not adequately protect marine resources or the diving public, the FWCC directed state biologists and other staff to review and refine the proposed guidelines. In particular, the Commission asked that issues of species being fed, distance from beaches and natural reefs where feeding occurs, and whether the touching or handling of marine life should be permitted, are addressed. These guidelines should be available in late August. They will be open for public comment in early September at the next Commission meeting.

Meanwhile, divers can submit their written comments to the FWCC at: www.marine@gfc.state.fl.us. Copies may be forwarded to the Marine Safety Group at: bob.dimond@marinesafetygroup.com and the GIMEC comments board provided by Rodales Scuba Diving(www.scubadiving.com/GIME C/forum/index.shtml) .

The FWCC action is not the only effort to control organized marine feedings in Florida. Anti-feeding proponents have asked many cities to ban the practice in their local waters. Despite industry lobbying, in February, Deerfield Beach banned offshore feeding within 1,500 feet of its public beaches. Hillsboro Beach is considering a similar ordinance.

In addition, Lighthouse Point City Commissioners have asked for a statewide ban, and are considering an ordinance that would prohibit shark feeding dive operators from picking up passengers within city limits. Delray Beach City Commissioners have asked state authorities for careful consideration of the feedings, but stopped short of opposing the practice.

Several national environmental groups have joined the battle to stop shark feeding. They include the Environmental Defense Fund, the Humane Society of the U.S., Reef Relief, Defenders of Wildlife, World Wildlife Fund, and the Surfrider Foundation. Groups like the Coral Reef Alliance (CORAL) and REEF, which have industry members on their boards and depend on industry goodwill, have avoided the fracas. The only environmental group in favor of feeding sharks is the PADI-sponsored Project Aware .

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