Shark conservationist and author of two books on the White Shark, Dirk Schmidt, has raised concerns over a permit issued to adventure television personality Chris Fischer to chum for sharks off the Cape coast.
A permit for Fischer and a team of researchers to release chum (a mix of fish heads, innards and oil) to attract sharks for the period of their televised research from April 10 to 30, has also got surfers and ocean bathers concerned about a possible resultant spike in shark activity as, although the chum can only be released at least two kilometres offshore, winds and ocean currents could push the fishy slick close to popular beaches, bringing sharks inshore.
Fischer and his team are believed to have up to five tons of chum which they can release to attract sharks.
Ocean users in False Bay, which is world renowned for its White Shark activity, are particularly concerned as sharks are often spotted at Muizenberg Beach which is popular among surfers and bathers.
Over 1 100 sharks have been sighted close to shore by the Shark Spotters who keep watch over beaches from Muizenberg to Fish Hoek, with Shark Spotters manager Sarah Titley saying three sharks were sighted at Muizenberg and St James beaches yesterday.
Schmidt said beyond concerns over chum being released in the bay and drifting toward shore, he was concerned over the research activities being filmed by Fischer and his team causing harm to the sharks.
He said Fischer was filming the capture and tagging of sharks, which determined their patterns of distribution and migration.
The problem was that if these patterns were widely known, any fishing outfit that wanted to catch White Sharks would know where to find them beyond protected waters.
Additionally, the tags stayed in the shark fin for up to five years which meant it would create deformities in any growing shark.
“Do we really need to know where these sharks are tracking, and if we do, who is going to ensure their protection?” he asked.
He said he also had concerns over the lack of public consultation, or announcement, that a permit for the release of five tons of chum had been issued.
He said the issuing of the permit had been “incredibly clandestine”.
“No scientist can say there won’t be altered behaviour on the part of the sharks (due to the release of large amounts of chum). My concern is if someone gets attacked, then the shark takes the blame.”
Save Our Sharks Foundation spokesperson Kim von Brandis said they did not know about the issuing of the permit for large scale chumming until alerted by Schmidt.
She said she could only hope that Fischer and his team adhered to the stipulations of the permit and respected the needs of bathers and surfers.
Regarding public awareness, she said: “It would be great to inform the public about what is going on in the bay.”
Titley said whether or not chumming by the shark researchers would bring more sharks inshore was something she could not speculate, but said during this part of the year it was normal to see more sharks near the shore as it was part of their seasonal behaviour.
There was also daily chumming by shark cage diving operators near Seal Island anyway.
She said there were three shark sightings yesterday morning, two sharks that swam from Muizenberg to St James and another sighting of a shark in St James.
Director of Biodiversity and Coastal Research, Alan Boyd, who was responsible for issuing the permit, said he did not believe the chumming by Fischer and team posed any danger to the public.
He confirmed that up to five tons of chum were on board the vessel but none of the activities took place close to the coast and the teams activities were not confined to False Bay.
Fischer could not be contacted for comment yesterday. – Steve Kretzmann