MA DMF implements regulations to restrict activity around white sharks

Experts fear more interaction will make sharks more aggressive towards humans
According to new DMF regulations, anyone without a special permit is not allowed to interact with white sharks in Massachusetts waters. ©David P. Stephens/DPC

The Massachusetts Division of Marine Fisheries (DMF) Thursday announced emergency regulations to restrict activity around white sharks. The regulations, according to a DMF release, are effective immediately. Anyone without a white shark special permit is prohibited from attracting or capturing white sharks. 

The regulations have been put in effect to not only protect humans, but the sharks as well.  Prohibited activities include cage diving, shark chumming, baiting, feeding and towing decoys. 

Massachusetts and specifically areas around Cape Cod are home to a "predictable population" of white sharks during the summer. The abundance of food (seals) has consistently attracted white sharks to the waters of Cape Cod for the past several years. As the population of sharks in the area grows, so does the interest.  Mary Lee, a 16-foot female white shark caught and tagged off of Cape Cod in 2012, has a healthy Twitter following. The shark, which is currently making her way towards the Cape for a summer feast of seals has more than 74,000 followers on her Twitter page.

Concerns about boater interaction with sharks and the likelihood of an establishment of shark-related tourism businesses has led to the implementation of the regulations. According to DMF, research shows that certain activities that "enhance shark-human interactions" may increase the risk to the public. Humans who interfere with normal shark behaviors such as swimming and feeding may led to sharks associating humans with food, making sharks more aggressive towards humans, the release said.

Similar regulations are in place in other parts of the world where there are predictable populations of sharks.

Cynthia Wigren, President and Co-founder of the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy (AWSC) said their research indicates there may be more white sharks in the area than previously thought. Last season, AWSC identified 68 unique white sharks off Cape Cod. 

"AWSC supports the Division of Marine Fisheries' decision to develop a permit criteria. Massachusetts has an opportunity to use the 'best practices' from around the world to create oversight that effectively balances public safety, economic opportunity, and conservation of the species," Wigren said. "The Conservancy believes that this action is a critical first step in laying the strongest foundation for a responsible and comprehensive policy with long term implications."

Wigren said her organization will apply for the special white shark permit to continue their research.

The new white shark regulations do not apply to "normal" fishing and boating, DMF said. Those chumming for other finfish such as bluefish tuna will not be in violation. Should a white shark be caught while fishing for finfish, that shark should be released "in a manner that maximizes the shark's survival", DMF said. 

Similarly, boaters who encounter a shark, and who have not purposefully attracted that shark to their vessel, will not be in violation. Those boaters need only distance themselves from the shark in a safe manner.

In addition to the commonwealth and the towns of Barnstable County, the Cape Cod National Seashore also has an interest in the safety of vistors to the national park. When asked what the Seashore's position was on DMF's new shark regulations, Chief Ranger Leslie Reynolds replied in an email, "Cape Cod National Seashore supports the Division of Marine Fisheries adoption of the emergency regulations that restrict activity around white sharks." 

DMF is planning a public hearing and comment period regarding the new emergency regulations. welcomes thoughtful comments and the varied opinions of our readers. We are in no way obligated to post or allow comments that our moderators deem inappropriate. We reserve the right to delete comments we perceive as profane, vulgar, threatening, offensive, racially-biased, homophobic, slanderous, hateful or just plain rude. Commenters may not attack or insult other commenters, readers or writers. Commenters who persist in posting inappropriate comments will be banned from commenting on