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Sharks and Fish Farms: a Bad Combination?

A 27-year-old man was bitten by shark, while working on an offshore fish farm in Ashdod, about 7 kilometers off the Meditterranean coast of Israel. Dr. Menachem Goren of the department of zoology at Tel Aviv University stated said it is common to see sharks in offshore fish farms, where they come to feed on the fish stalking around the cages, eating leftover fish food.  It makes sense, he said, that the worker was bitten while trying to clear the shark from the fish cage, as was reported in the press. The worker had wounds in his arm.

The sandbar shark is a visitor to fish farms. Picture by Doug Perrine (seapics.com)

 

Aquaculture has been a method of food production for thousands of years, and is a method of supplementing wild caught fish in order to feed an ever-growing global population. But it does involve cramming hundreds of thousands of fish into gigantic submerged nets or cages. Feed and excrement draw sharks, which smell food from more than a mile away. And there are good reasons to object to offshore aquaculture (href=”http://www.foodandwaterwatch.org/fish/fish-farming/offshore/problems/”>http://www.foodandwaterwatch.org/fish/fish-farming/offshore/problems/).

In Hawaii sharks already congregated around the first commercial offshore fish farm, anchored two miles off of Oahu’s Ewa Beach in Hawaii. It is the plan to add more to its current four, and triple annual production capacity to 4 million pounds of fish.Owner Randy Cates admits his cages serve as bait. “Will they attract sharks? Yes, they will.” The sandbar shark is the main guest here and has been blamed for five bites worldwide, according to the International Shark Attack Files at the University of Florida.

 

A free floating fish cage near Hawaii (picture: Kampachi)

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration campaign to expand aquaculture and has made a similar confession, acknowledging increased shark activity at deep-sea fish farms it manages in both New Hampshire and Puerto Rico.

As a state targeted for more aquaculture facilities, Hawaiians have demanded a study of shark activity off of Oahu. Sharks will be tagged and monitored.

In Australia, there are plans for eight floating cages within the Port Stephens-Great Lakes Marine Park. The cages would be anchored four kilometres from shore at Providence Bay near Hawks Nest, a popular tourist spot. But critics say the proposal will increase shark activity, disturb migrating whales and dolphins and release fish effluent and chemicals.

Tourism boat operators are worried that sharks will linger around the cages and affect tourism. The department will monitor sharks in the trial and erect nets around the site.

A CSIRO shark expert, Barry Bruce, said the site was near a nursery area for white sharks and shark activity was already high.

The presence of fish and fish meal could entice sharks, which ”can be conditioned to stay around that source of attraction for periods longer than they would otherwise”, Dr Bruce said.

Supporters say the project will ease pressure on wild fish stocks, help develop a sustainable aquaculture industry and create jobs. But shouldn’t we be more careful?

More info:

Shark bite in Israel

Sharks and fish farms

Aquaculture in the Bahamas

Fish farm fears in Australia

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