In the aftermath of two shark attacks on tourists in the last two months, the government is considering banning chumming, Minister of Agriculture and Marine Resources Michael Pintard said yesterday.
Chumming is the practice of luring marine animals near by throwing bait in the water.
It is one of several measures the government is looking at to respond to what Pintard called “a different behavioral pattern” of sharks in The Bahamas.
Other measures include prohibiting people who are cleaning fish from disposing of the waste parts in waters near where others swim. Additionally, Pintard said the government is looking at regulations for tours to ensure that they have adequate training to deal with attacks.
In June, an American woman died after being attacked by sharks in waters off Rose Island. Earlier this month, another American man was attacked in waters off Abaco.
“It is important for us to respond to what is decidedly a different behavioral pattern of sharks in recent times,” Pintard said.
“Certainly, in The Bahamas we have seen a difference in terms of the amount of sharks that are coming close to shore and interacting with persons, and we intend to address it candidly.”
He added, “We are looking at a number of important measures that we believe will start paying dividends. One, we are examining, with a view of dramatically reducing, and I believe we will get to the point of completely banning, chumming in Bahamian waters.
“We have a very serious concern about the increased feeding of sharks, particularly in residential areas or on the periphery of restaurants that are seeking to attract customers. That to us is posing a problem given where it is occurring. In addition, we believe that it is important that fishers who are cleaning fish discontinue discarding the waste portion of the fish in waters in close proximity, especially to where persons are swimming. We are absolutely clear that this is a disaster that is waiting to happen, and we wish to move definitively, decisively to address the issue.
“In addition, we are in the process of requiring those that are running tour operations, hoteliers and others who benefit commercially from any shark viewing interaction initiatives that they have in place the appropriate protocols. That is, first aid equipment that they themselves, the persons who are engaged, are properly trained, that they know exactly what to do in the event of any incidences.
“And it is also important, and we strongly recommend and will take advice possibly with a view of enforcing it or encoding it in law that we have guides that are a part of these expeditions who will be on the lookout for sharks, which as you know sometimes come close to the shore for any number of reasons, among which, [is] chasing rays.
“We are in the process of introducing an amendment to our legislation. We do not believe it is appropriate to criminalize an individual who is under threat of harm or death from a shark if they were to defend themselves and kill a shark.
“We are not going to go to the opposite extreme and maintain a law that works against the preservation of human life. We certainly do not intend to do that.”
However, Pintard warned against “knee-jerk reactions” from the government and the public. He said policymakers are working with stakeholders to determine the best way forward.
“We have a tremendous amount of work to do to ensure that people know the science, know the facts,” he said.
“This would mitigate against knee-jerk reactions by policymakers as well as the average citizen because of fears of being bitten by a shark.
“We are committed to work with all stakeholders to share the relevant information but at the same time to ensure that the appropriate policies and protocols and steps are taken to protect all concerned, and we are in the midst of doing just that to ensure that the increased interaction between sharks and human beings in the wild are less and less those unwanted interactions that can result in harm.”
Pintard said sharks benefit the country environmentally, socially and economically, and emphasized that the conservation of sharks remains a priority for the government.
“What happens in our water is pivotal to our national development and our identity culturally,” he said.
“So as we look at the increased number of sharks that we believe will result as an outcome of the efforts that we are making, we are seeking to strike a critical balance where while we protect sharks, we also protect other users of the water, in particular, human beings, whether they are fishers, where there are Bahamians who are swimming and diving…or whether they are guests who come to our country.”