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May 2014    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 29, No. 5   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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The Illegal Feeding of Florida’s Sharks

from the May, 2014 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

Although feeding fish has been banned in Florida waters since 2002, some tour operators are trying to skirt the regulations, promising shark dives by luring the fish with bait. But word got out to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) when they started getting complaints about shark feeds off the shores of Palm Beach County during dive trips. One woman said the sharks got so aggressive she had to get out of the water.

Working undercover with the Palm Beach County Sheriff's Office (PBSO), the FWC did two separate undercover investigations of Palm Beach dive charter operators. On February 8, deputies from the PBSO acted as "Joe Divers" paying for a day trip with Emerald Charters of Jupiter. During the dive, they took videos of owner Randy Jordan feeding sharks by hand within state waters. He also used a milk crate filled with fish chunks to lure sharks. Thomas Smith was captaining the boat. On February 22, the deputies took another undercover dive trip on board Miss Jackie, owned by Luis Roman of Calypso Dive Charters in Lake Park and captained by Toni Crumrine. During the dive, they videotaped Roman feeding a goliath grouper and a lemon shark, and also trying to lure sharks by shaking a milk crate filled with barracuda chunks.

Afterwards, the FWC and PBSO team used GPS devices and other methods to confirm that the illegal feeding was indeed occurring in state waters, which, in the Atlantic, is within three nautical miles of the Florida coastline. The State Attorney's office charged Jordan, Smith, Roman and Crumrine with operating a vessel for hire within state waters to allow passengers to observe fish feeding. Jordan and Roman were also charged with fish feeding. The DA's office charged the men with second-degree misdemeanors, punishable by up to 60 days in jail and a fine of up to $500.

Emerald Charters' Randy Jordan stands defiant and denies the charges. In an interview with the Florida newspaper Sun-Sentinel, he said he feeds sharks every day for his clients but does so in federal waters, where it's still legal. "When people see that the sharks are not going to rip them to shreds, then they're not afraid of them, and they begin to love sharks and appreciate them as apex predators that we need," he said. "Second, by monetizing sharks by making money from people seeing them, it makes it so that sharks are worth a lot more money alive than dead."

On the Emerald Charters Facebook page, Jordan wrote, "On February 8, the FWC placed two undercover divers on the Emerald. They tracked us with a land-based radar and videotaped our lemon shark encounter. Lieutenant Dave Bingham just met with me and gave me a ticket for feeding sharks in state waters. They determined I was 367 feet off the line. Regardless, I am cited and will have to go to court. First of all, please let anyone know about this that wants to enrich their soul by celebrating my misfortune. I am still feeding sharks and educating divers about sharks. I'm sure after the press release and subsequent interviews, I will be more booked so talk it up!" His comment got 99 likes.

But not everyone is supporting him. The Florida Association of Dive Instructors is upset with the low fines and lowly misdemeanor charges given to the four guys, so they started a petition on Change.org to urge Florida to enforce laws against shark baiting, increase the fines, increase protection into federal waters and give stronger punishment to the offenders. You can sign it at http://chn.ge/1nuVCDE

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