A WHALE of a rumpus has erupted around a well known marine tourism operator for chumming off the beach front and potentially attracting sharks into bathing areas. Lloyd Edwards of Raggy Chargers confirmed yesterday he was chumming “off Bayworld” last week Thursday with fish off-cuts, to lure scavenging seagulls for a film crew. But he argued that what he was doing was not chumming (scattering bait on the water to attract wildlife) so much as “feeding the gulls at Bluewater Cafe”.
He argued further that the method was not dangerous as the birds snapped up everything, and left nothing to lure in any sharks.
But his actions were slammed by Nelson Mandela Bay Municipality Beach Office manager Fernando Cain who warned that they particularly threatened the safety of open water swimmers training for Iron Man and Splash.
Footage of the activity was captured on the municipality’s CCTV system. It shows Edwards reaching into a box and tossing out handfuls of what he confirmed later were hake off-cuts, while a cameraman films the action, and seagulls swoop around the boat.
An official said Orca was anchored just behind the backwater breakers, “less than 100m out”, off Humewood Beach – until recently one of the country’s premier Blue Flag beaches because of its top environmental and safety standards.
Cain said his office had at the same time been “inundated with complaints regarding a blue and white ski boat chumming off recreational beaches”.
“The chumming has caused public panic…. Any attack on bathers could be detrimental to the city’s image as a watersports’ destination,” he said.
Bayworld shark expert Dr Matt Dicken confirmed he had heard rumours about the activity but did not know if it was true.
“But if someone was chumming backline, and the question is, could it increase the risk of bringing sharks into bathing areas – the answer would be yes.”
Philip Dalton of John Downer Productions said he and his crew were filming a documentary about bird migration, and bridled at the charges around chumming and sharks. The company “will take action required to protect our reputation”, he said.
The national environment department’s oceans’ and coasts branch did not respond to questions, but e-mail correspondence between the protagonists notes that it is “looking into the matter”.
The matter is due to be raised in Parliament on April 1 via a question from DA MP Gareth Morgan, which has already been submitted.
Shaheen Moolla, MD of Feike, the Cape Town based marine fisheries consultancy, and former director-general of law enforcement in the government’s marine and coastal management department, said Edwards’ actions were illegal on two counts.
“Firstly, section 3 of the Sea Birds and Seals Protection Act prohibits the willful disturbance of any seal or seabird without a permit or exemption issued by the minister of the environment department, and I understand no such permit or exemption was issued.”
The activity is also illegal in terms of chapter eight of the Integrated Coastal Management Act, he said.
“This legislation says chumming constitutes ‘dumping’ of ‘effluent’ and is an offence unless a dumping at sea permit has been issued by the minister…. Again, to my knowledge, no such permit was issued.
“The unlawful dumping carries a penalty of R5-million and/or 10 years’ imprisonment.”
Moolla questioned whether the environment department would act with impartiality on the issue and urged it to do so. Feike was one of the leading critics of the department’s acceptance of Raggy Charters’ application for the Algoa Bay boat-based whale watching license, despite the objections to a SANParks official being named as Edwards’ partner in terms of their BEE credentials.
The SANParks official has since withdrawn and Raggy Charters has been joined by a black woman student doing her honours in tourism at NMMU. Their application for the boat-based whale watching right has been “accepted subject to appeal” and the matter will hopefully be finalised by the end of this month, Edwards said yesterday.
He said the criticism he was receiving to do with the chumming incident was all related to this application and continued efforts by several parties including Feike and other PE boat-based whale watching applicants to smear him.
Dalton’s seagull footage is set to be included in a documentary about the migration routes of birds around the world, he said.
The crew has already spent time on Bird Island, under an approved SANParks permit, and after the seagull footage they are now just looking to get footage of Cape gannets doing their aerial diving for food.
Asked why they had chosen to do the seagull filming right off Humewood Beach, he said the crew had needed a sheltered spot that at the same time offered them a blue sky back-drop.
He said he was using three boxes of hake off-cuts which he got from Eyethu and what he was doing should be balanced against what the fishing industry did regularly.
“There was a fishing boat 50m away from us and in fact when they started cleaning off their decks our birds moved across to them.”
He said he was not aware of any legislation prohibiting him from chumming in this way, and disagreed that it was dangerous.
“It’s absolutely crazy. We were not chumming for sharks, and that was absolutely not our intention. We were filming birds.
“There was an off-shore wind blowing, but I don’t think it was dangerous, anyway. The seagulls were grabbing every scrap.”