Sharks and Fish Farms: A Deadly Attraction
Danger lurks beneath the sparkling waters of Hawaii. A new type of industrialized fish farming called “offshore aquaculture” may be attracting sharks closer to shore, where surfers and swimmers abound. Locals wonder, with shark attacks on the rise, five were reported in Hawaii in 2005, is there a connection?
Offshore aquaculture involves 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. A frenzy can result, with sharks tearing through nets for a ready-to-eat meal.
Sharks already congregate around the nation‚ first commercial offshore fish farm, anchored two miles off of Oahu‚ Ewa Beach in Hawaii. Cates International Inc. wants to add 12 cages to its current four, and triple annual production capacity to 4 million pounds of fish.1 Owner Randy Cates admits his cages serve as bait. “Will they attract sharks? Yes, they will.”2 The sandbar shark is the main predator and has been blamed for five attacks worldwide, according to the International Shark Attack Files at the University of Florida.
The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, which is carrying water for the Bush administration‚ campaign to expand aquaculture, has made a similar confession. The agency acknowledges increased shark activity at deep-sea fish farms it manages in both New Hampshire and Puerto Rico.3
Hawaii Bites Back
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, so scientists can learn if they are threats to surfers and swimmers. “I want to know, where do the predators go once they are attracted to this area?” asked Oahu fisherman William Aila.4
Aila may have to wait a long time to get an answer. The state Legislature approved the shark study in 2005, but not before deciding to delay the work until 2010. By that time, it may be too late. With the Bush administration working to make it easier for fish farms to be constructed off the coast, and with Cates eyeing to expand, cages will continue to multiply, and so may their unwelcomed guests.
2 Godvin, Tara. (Associated Press) “Hawaii study to see if fish farms attract sharks.” San Diego Union-Tribune, April 11, 2005.