Florida lawmakers look to delay ban on shark-feeding dives

“A call by two State Republicans to delay final action on a proposed ban on marine life feeding in Florida waters has been described as “”ludicrous”” and “”classic backroom politics.””

Rep. Ken Sorensen and Lindsay Harrington, both members of the House Natural Resources and Environmental Protection Committee, have asked the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FFWCC) to postpone final action until an industry-funded “”study”” can be conducted.

Their move comes just weeks before the FFWCC is expected to ban commercial diving operators from feeding sharks and other predators close to public beaches.

Robert Dimond, president of the Marine Safety Group (MSG), the environmental group that has led the two-year fight to ban shark feeding, called this move irresponsible. “It is nothing more than a delaying action sponsored by the dive industry, which is attempting to bypass the will of both the Commission and the public by appealing directly to key members of the House Committee that controls the FFWCC budget appropriations,” he said.

Dr. William Alevizon, former Professor of Marine Biology at the Florida Institute of Technology, said the suggestion that new research might enlighten the issue in the short term was ludicrous. “”This is a complex scientific issue, involving numerous species and habitats, each with unique sets of ecological interactions. There is simply no magic research bullet that could, in a year or two, substantially change the current state of knowledge regarding the environmental effects of fish feeding in Florida,” he said.

“”Even if an entire series of such research projects began today, it would be many years before they could be completed, and the results properly reviewed and evaluated by the scientific community. The prudent thing to do is to act now to protect these resources, using the best available information. That evidence overwhelmingly supports the position that these feeding dives disrupt natural ecosystems and negatively alter fish behaviour,” said Alevizon.

The motion to proceed with rule making that would ban the feeding of marine wildlife by divers was first passed (unanimously) by the FFWCC in January 2000, when Commissioners expressed concerns for marine resources as well as public safety. During the ensuing two years, the Commission conducted an extensive series of public workshops and meetings during which a wealth of testimony documenting the problems involved in feeding wildlife was provided by scientific experts, government resource managers and leading environmental organisations.

Despite this two-year history of considered deliberation and extensive information gathering by the FFWCC, dive industry lobbyists have repeatedly portrayed the proposed FFWCC rule as nothing more than a hastily conceived, knee-jerk reaction to last summer’s shark attacks.

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