Federal fisheries department restricts Ocearch’s chumming territory

by Keith Corcoran

  • <p>KEITH CORCORAN, PHOTO</p><p>A researcher boards the lift on MV Ocearch to take samples and tag a mature male great white shark September 24 that Ocearch would later name Nova. MV Ocearch Capt. Brett McBride, top, tends to the animal.</p>

The U.S.-based research group Ocearch has reached a deal with Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) to stop chumming within three nautical miles - or five-and-half kilometres - of places where marine recreational users such as surfers and kayakers could be after concerns were raised about that method of baiting within the view of the shoreline.

The group is in the midst of a three-week Nova Scotia expedition probing great white shark migratory patterns and trying to zero in on a potential mating site in the north Atlantic and has been working to tag great white sharks off the coast of Lunenburg County.

Ocearch is now required to daily notify DFO via email of their location during fishing activity, DFO spokesman Stephen Bornais told LighthouseNOW via email.

"Ocearch has complied with this measure. As well, conservation and protection fishery officers are aware of the activity and will be monitoring the situation," Bornais added. "Ocearch has also agreed to advise the public of their research activities via their Twitter feeds."

Bornais earlier pointed out that "it is not anticipated that white sharks will change where they forage for food as a result of any chumming that occurs as part of [Ocearch's] research."

Chumming is one of the common methods used to attract sharks.

The DFO permits allow Ocearch to tag up to 20 white sharks off the coast of Nova Scotia and Newfoundland late this summer or early in the fall.

Robert Hueter, Ocearch's chief science advisor. is concerned myth and misinformation could dictate policy. DFO staff have been on board MV Ocearch keeping an eye on their operations, he said, and the group has stayed in touch with the federal department since the start.

"We really need people to start using the facts in assessing what we're doing out here," Hueter said, "and that we are not drawing animals in from offshore; we're not concentrating animals in from miles and miles away."

Ocearch tagged its first shark in Canadian waters on September 24 off the coast of nearby Upper Kingsburg. The three-and-a-half metre, mature male white shark, named Nova, weighs about 500 kilograms. As of late October 5, Ocearch has tagged two additional sharks in a catch-and-release routine that allows science experts on board to collect samples as part of the research.

Hueter said the sharks captured so far were caught on set lines where there was no chumming. Effective chumming reaches out to animals already in the vicinity, he said, and lures them to where they can be caught.

"We're not doing anything to change the risk for public safety. We'd never do that," Hueter added. "We're trying to, in the long run, make a case for improved public safety through education, through better scientific knowledge of what animals are here, why they're here, what they're doing here and then balance that against what people are doing in the water."

Just because people can see the vessel, doesn't mean Ocearch is fishing at the time. The re-purposed 38-metre crab vessel-turned-mobile research base has sought refuge from bad weather and tucked close to shore.

"We understand people are concerned," Hueter said, "but what we're doing is throwing back the curtain on what has always been here."

Asked what change of chumming location will do for the expedition, Hueter said, "We'll see. I hope it will not be affected." He, again, pointed out the sharks caught to date were not caught in a chummed area.

He also refuted a claim contained in another news media's story suggesting a snorkeler near West Ironbound Island was advised by Ocearch officials to get out of the water because of active chumming.

"Complete fabrication; never happened,"Hueter said. "Somebody's got an active imagination."

Ocearch's active fishing wraps up around October 10.

Hueter would like to see at least two more white sharks - hopefully a female or two - caught before the journey's finished. "We only have a few decent weather days left."

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