Sunday, January 11, 2015

Do Shark Diving Operators need to be regulated?

Commercial Shark feeding - very very safe!

Thorny thorny!

If you're a Shark diving operator, you need to read this!
And I cite.
5. Conclusions 

In recent years there has been increasing global interest in shark-encounter tourism and the potential economic incentive and awareness raising benefits this industry may bring to shark conservation. 
However, recent research has indicated negative behavioural impacts arising from shark diving or snorkelling and inadequacies in management have been highlighted. 

In this global study of shark tourism practices we found that in the majority of cases surveyed, shark operators apply codes of conduct (either mandatory or voluntary) to ensure the safety of both people and sharks even when no formal national guidelines exist. 
However, the practices and approaches taken varied widely, and we believe there is a good case for greater regulation to raise standards and minimise any adverse effects on both sharks and people. Such an approach would involve greater scrutiny of the industry and formalisation of legally enforced national guidelines. 

Links are frequently made between shark baiting/provisioning and attacks, and while these remain speculative, a precautionary approach is warranted that would be best delivered through regulation. 
Without this, shark tourism has the potential to cause accidents which could decrease the growing popularity of sharks and thereby have negative knock on effects for their conservation, particularly when culls follow attacks such as those recently witnessed in Western Australia. 

While our questionnaire indicates that the majority of shark encounters and shark tourism currently pose very little risk to people, more field research is required on shark behavioural responses to tourism practices to help assess best practices for sharks, people and environment. Shark diving management therefore needs to be dynamic and must evolve with continuing developments in the industry and understanding of shark behaviour.
First things first.
When it comes to collecting the evidence and painting a picture of global Shark diving tourism, this paper is really quite good. Also, I really don't want to further elaborate on what I've already said about those problematic non-provisioned encounters with Elasmobranchs, be it Whale Sharks, Mantas and the like, i.e. that if the industry is not able to self regulate, then the regulator has to step in - see e.g. here.

And what about those provisioned dives?
I've blogged ad nauseam about what the evidence teaches us about their effect on the animals, the public and the environment, e.g. here. Yes there are of course people that postulate otherwise - but at this stage in the debate, it is for them to stop speculating but instead, to finally come up with evidence to the contrary. And no, invoking the precautionary principle in view of those totally unsubstantiated allegations aint good enough anymore, either!
And if they cannot come up with the evidence, they finally need to shut the fuck up - especially the researchers!

Yes Shark feeding is dangerous - dooh.
Yes often the Sharks get excited - dooh.
And yes there are dodgy Shark diving operators, and those unsupervised multi-user sites like TB are a cause for concern. And we also all know that there have been quite a number of Shark bites - very few on the clients but plenty on the feeders, the latter ranging from harmless because there was protective gear to serious when there was none.

But here comes the big BUT!
In tens, if not hundreds of thousands of baited Shark dives, there has been a grand total of ONE documented fatality - and I betcha that if one were to make the comparison to "normal" diving, you would likely find more fatalities per hours spent in the water than during baited Shark dives!

The reason?
Believe it or not - but none of us has a death wish, and we also want to bring back our clients unharmed!
We know that what we do is dangerous, and we are the first ones striving to minimize and manage the risks we admittedly create! This is why the overwhelming majority, if not all of Shark feeding operators have devised voluntary codes of conduct - and those protocols obviously work!
Does anybody really believe that some government bureaucrats could come up with, implement and then supervise better protocols - but more importantly, is there really a need for them? There are already more than sufficient laws on the books to deal with criminal negligence vis-à-vis the customers, and accidents to the staff are covered by occupational health-and-safety regulations - so instead of wasting additional government resources on what is essentially a non-issue, why don't we rely on the authorities to simply apply the Law.
And guess what - when the incidents are serious, they incidentally do it already!

And the suggestions by the authors?
... legally binding national guidelines for shark tourism which all shark operators need to be made aware of. 
Education could include mandatory classes for shark operators about species which are likely within their area, the threats facing them, current management practices, potential human impacts from tourism activities and best practice for mitigating them. Attendance at such sessions could be a formalised requirement of any permitting scheme and could be funded through charges to operators. Based on our findings and review of literature, we propose that national regulations or codes of conduct for shark-related tourism should include limits on: group sizes, time spent in the water with sharks and provisioning (both in terms of quantity and quality of food items). There needs to be compulsory education about such regulations and legal consequence should they not be followed.
Seriously - what a load of crap!
Surely, this stupidity has not been coordinated with the concerned operators - or has it?
None of the accidents I know of (and I know of many!) had anything to do with group size, time spent in the water and amount of food, let alone with not knowing the animals! Once again, it really appears that some researchers are bloviating about our industry without the slightest clue about sustainable Shark provisioning let alone tourism - and it is really starting to piss me off!

Guys, we appreciate the interest.
But for fuck's sake, as a minimum, you need to talk to us before accusing us of not knowing what we do! In fact, the contrary is true - most of anything that is known about Shark behavior and sustainable tourism practices has been garnered on dives that have been established by our industry, and smart researchers have long learned to talk to us and to listen to what we got to say!

Anyway, it matters not.
Governments got no time for these minutiae - that is, unless there are real issues where self regulation has obviously failed. Then they should, and will regulate - and when they do, I'm equally confident that they will seek the dialogue with us, the pros!

And in the meantime, we will continue to do what we do best.
We will continue to provide extremely safe, enjoyable encounters that harm nobody - not the public, not the Sharks and not the environment. And we will of course evolve and progress, like we always have, and like we are presently doing by having voluntarily established GSD and quite possibly, by collaborating with respectful people and organizations in formulating a global code of conduct like briefly mentioned here!
That's how you do it - by dialogue, not by proclamations ex cathedra!

To be continued no doubt!

PS: Martin here. PIDOOMA huh - hahahaha, very funny!


Shark Diver said...

Great insight! I re-blogged it with hopefully the all the correct links to credit you.


Unknown said...

What kills me about the conclusion/discussion is that after all the q&a with operators, the authors jump to REGULATION as the logical conclusion. WTF. The dillema of academia in the driver seat. There are a zillion (apologies for hyperbole) options before you ask government to crack down on any operation. In fact I see it as abject FAILURE of an industry to get their shit together if a govt body has to intervene. I'm not throwing the baby out with the bath water... There's a lot to like about this study. But the conclusions are shite.

DaShark said...

Merci Martin!

Lies emol de Draeck daenn chaschmer saege was davo haltisch!

DaShark said...

Rick thanks for that.

Fully agree - on the ludicrous conclusions but also on the fact that otherwise, the paper is really interesting!

OfficetoOcean said...

I remember my original piece in Diver Magazine about this very subject which started me off on my ludicrous journey and of course, the discussions we had in person about this very topic.

My stance has changed somewhat in that, as you've said to me previously, every Operator will unlikely be willing to allow a small group or one in particular to dictate their protocols or how they run their business, not only that, it's all species and location specific so there are tonnes of variables which can't be simply lumped together under the banner of "shark diving" and as such, the worry would be that Academia would be given a strong voice in the regulation and, although academia of course has its uses and merit, academics (or at least the land/boat based academics) are not shark divers and therefore do not understand the subject properly.

It would need men and women with thousands of hours in the water and an understanding of everything that goes with running a successful operation to handle it but I would be surprised if those not tasked with coming up with the regulations would be happy to allow those who have, the chance to dictate how they run their dives.

DaShark said...

David - you realize that you know the lead author, yes? :)

Academia got a huge role to play in this - but we got to collaborate in this, and listen and learn from each other - as amply exemplified by the stellar collaboration of BAD with Juerg and many many others.

And those folks really got to be careful with what they state - just look at the fiasco that followed the publication of those papers by Barry Bruce - now those incautious pronouncements are being used by the anti-industry faction to advocate all kinds of nonsense all the way to culling the Sharks in WA!

But this paper is just weak science - it does not at all! mean that more research is not both welcome and necessary.
It is!

OfficetoOcean said...

I didn't even look at the names of the authors til you mentioned it, wow!

I agree completely on the collaboration thing, as you know I think the joining together of practical and academic experience is the best way forward for most things.

My point was merely that if it were handed over merely to the academic side with little to no experience of what they're actually discussing then it would be foolish so I'm in complete agreement with you.

Obviously, the more people like Juerg who cross over the boundaries between practical application and theoretical research, the better! :)