~ By Zigzag ~

Earlier this week, Wildlife Photographer Dr Dirk Schmidt brought public attention to the fact that a documentary research crew had been given permission to use five tons of chum in False Bay over a 20 day period. The film production company involved, Ocearch, has already commenced filming, scheduled from 10-30 April.
The open letter, (which can be read here) has led to an outcry from some False Bay surfers and members of the general public. Zag contacted Dr Alan Boyd from the Department of Environmental Affairs (who issued the permit), to ask for more details on how the permit was issued and how they assessed the impact the extra chumming would have. Feel free to comment below.
Zigzag: What is the process for issuing permits like this, and is there any kind of consultation process?
Dr Alan Boyd: Applications for Research Permits on marine Protected Species (or research work in Marine Protected Areas) are the responsibility of Branch Oceans and Coasts within the Department of Environmental Affairs. They are evaluated by an Internal Research Permit Committee (RPC) which makes recommendations to the Director of Biodiversity and Coastal Research (myself, Dr Alan Boyd) who then decides whether to issue the permit or not and what conditions need to be in place (based largely on the recommendations).
The Sharkmen research applications went through a RPC evaluation. This was followed by an intensive all-day meeting on 16 January attended by most of South Africa’s leading shark researchers which allowed all the proposed projects (including those about which the Department had reservations at that stage) to be discussed. It was agreed at this meeting that a specialist panel including members from inside and outside government, and a state vet, would look again at all research proposals and draw up detailed protocols for each type of sampling activity to ensure that the sharks were treated ethically. These sampling protocols were augmented by additional permit conditions indicating what methods could be used to catch sharks.
What does the permit cost and where does this money go?
There is no permit fee for Research Permits. The main costs of the expedition are being borne by Fischer Productions and Ocearch, who are also providing the vessel Ocearch and who are involved in the non-scientific aspects of the work and these costs will be covered from the proceeds of filming of the research activities.
Who are the film crew involved?
The main people involved are Chris Fischer and Chris Moore, plus seven others.
The figure given is 5 tons of chum over 20 days. Is this significantly more chum than would be used during normal cage diving operations over the same period?
The figure is correct. In terms of individual operators it is significantly more chum on a daily basis as operators are allowed only 25kg per day. In terms of the amount used at Gansbaai by all operators combined (8x25kg), it is about the same on a daily basis. Greater amounts are needed because of the nature of the research which involves working in multiple areas for relatively short periods of time. A Departmental official on board will monitor this activity.
With the increased amount of chumming, is there expected to be increased shark activity?
Yes, there should be increased shark activity in the vicinity of the vessel – which after all is the purpose of chumming. There will not be increased activity in areas away from the vessel. The amount to be used can be visualised as a bucket of fish pieces thrown into the ocean typically 5km away from the shore, once or twice per hour. Its impact is very local.
Do you agree this additional chumming increases the risk of human / shark interaction around False Bay, as pointed out by Dr Schmidt?
Not at all. The work in False Bay is likely to focus on the existing WSCD area around Seal Island, and York Shoal which is further offshore. No chumming or similar activity is allowed within 2km of the coast anywhere in False Bay, and the entire Table Mountain National Park Marine Protected Area is off limits. This includes the entire coast from Cape Point to Muizenberg to a distance of at least 5km offshore.
Was any kind of public announcement or warning planned as part of issuing the permit?
No, other than a general communication to affected stakeholders such as cage diving operators. There is no additional risk to the public, and the majority of direct stakeholders are either supportive or neutral with respect to the project. The alarmist messages being put out about this research endangering the public are inaccurate.

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