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April 2005 Vol. 31, No. 4   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Court Upholds Fish Feeding Ban

from the April, 2005 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

As Undercurrent has reported previously, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FFWCC) banned the practice of salt water fish feeding by commercial operators back in 2001. The dispute began over the issue of shark feeding and quickly polarized the dive community. Local dive operators enlisted the support of organizations such as PADI, DEMA (the Diving Equipment and Marketing Association), and some diving publications to campaign against the ban while various environmental and spearfishing groups — with considerable less financial clout — supported it. Obviously, local dive operators saw feeding as a major draw to divers and thus had a strong economic incentive to maintain the status quo. The dispute also attracted attention because it would set a precedent for a practice that has become a major industry worldwide.

When their lobbying efforts failed, DEMA, along with several dive operators and other interested parties, sued to overturn the regulation, challenging its constitutionality on the grounds that it was “without basis, factually, scientifically and logically,” and that it discriminates against dive operators, divers and snorkelers.

Eventually, a Florida circuit court dismissed the suit, finding that the FFWCC had provided a “rational basis for the rule.” A key factor in the court’s decision was an affidavit filed by William Alevizon, who has written frequently for Undercurrent on conservation issues.

DEMA, et al., appealed the decision to Florida’s 1st District Court, which upheld the lower court’s ruling in January.

According to Henry Cabbage, Media Relations Director of the FFWCC, this decision makes any further appeals “highly difficult.” Cabbage said that his organization “had reason to believe that feeding excursions were affecting fish behavior,” because of anecdotal evidence of fish flocking to the sound of boats’ motors.” He noted: “The industry has an excellent safety record on these excursions, and we did not question that.” Since the Florida rule went into effect, similar fish-feeding bans have been enacted in Hawaii and the Cayman Islands.

Tom Ingram, DEMA’s executive director, told Undercurrent that his organization is considering its options in Florida and studying the Hawaii and Cayman regulations. “We rarely put these things to rest completely,” he noted.

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