Saturday, June 18, 2005

Chumming, a dangerous practice

The Shark Concern Group has called on the government to ban chumming and the use of bait in the shark tourism industry because of the increase in shark attacks.The group, which includes surfers, yachtsmen, scientists and a surgeon, has written to Environment Affairs Minister Marthinus van Schalkwyk requesting "urgent action" in shark tourism.Chris Bovim, who was attacked by a great white shark on Christmas Eve in 2002 while crayfishing off Scarborough, said in an open letter to Van Schalkwyk: "From enjoying our ocean in a state of ignorance and abandon, the local diving and surfing community has rightfully become increasingly concerned about shark attacks.

top."We are concerned that the risks have increased as a result of how humans are interacting with sharks, for example using shark-cage diving and chumming. These practices are unnecessary and have ecological implications that are largely unknown.

'We propose boat-based shark viewing without the use of attractants'"We propose boat-based shark viewing without the use of attractants. This would be true eco-tourism."The group has also called on the government to give the great white the same protection as it has in California, where any interference with the shark is forbidden. "If we do not know whether chumming has an effect on great white sharks, then a precautionary approach should be adopted as a matter of extreme urgency," the letter said.

It called for an environmental impact assessment with full public participation so the options could be reviewed.Some of the signatories are zoologist Graham Noble, Olympic yachtsman Ian Ainslie, surgeon and surfer Brian Bernstein, climber and film-maker Chris Lomax, Kommetjie Environmental Awareness Group chair Wally Petersen and At du Plooy, of the SA Institute of Skippers.

Bovim said some research indicated that sharks did become "habituated", in the same way that other animals did. "What is there to lose by banning chumming? We're not calling for cage diving to be banned, just for the industry to be re-engineered. Banning chumming is a start which should be implemented urgently. There had not been sufficient oversight of the shark cage industry," Bovim said.Bovim was attacked about 70m off Scarborough while he was snorkeling.

"The shark was so vast it was like being next to a submarine," Bovim said, recalling the attack.At one stage the shark had both of Bovim's arms in its mouth and Bovim escaped by head-butting the animal repeatedly. He made his way to the shore with "my right hand hanging from my elbow".Bovim has lost some of the use of his right hand.Van Schalkwyk's spokesperson Riaan Aucamp said on Tuesday that the minister took the matter seriously.

His department, with the Universities of Pretoria and Cape Town, the SA Museum and the Natal Sharks Board, was conducting scientific studies on the possible relationship between cage diving and shark attacks.As the research had begun last year, it was too early to have made any findings.


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