Most Malibu residents are aware that great white sharks, as well as many other kinds of sharks, are plentiful off the coast, yet there has only ever been one reported shark attack near Malibu: A shark—possibly a hammerhead—attacked a kayaker near Deer Creek Road on Sept. 5, 2015, as he was fishing for sharks. The kayaker escaped with a bite on the foot, according to officials.
Local resident and shark photographer Carlos Gauna received a video about a week ago from a speedboat owner, which showed two men “chumming” to attract sharks. The men dangled large plastic containers of fish parts, bones and blood from ropes in the water and did indeed attract a great white shark, which carried off one entire container of the chum.
As if attracting great white sharks relatively close to shore wasn’t bad enough, the men were apparently doing it within the Point Dume State Marine Preserve (SMP)—a place designated for marine life to live undisturbed. The video also showed a fish flopping around the bottom of their boat, still on a line—fishing is not allowed in an SMP.
“I find it appalling that folks would do this,” Gauna wrote on social media about the video. “So many people want to interfere with nature ... This guy actually had the nerve to message me personally wanting to know where I film sharks.”
Gauna reiterated his concerns in a phone interview.
“This was just a couple of jerks with a speedboat,” the photographer said. “Some rich guy with nothing else to do but put blood into the water to see sharks, but he was driving full speed over our coastal shark nurseries.”
Chris Lowe, shark lab director and professor of marine biology at CSU-Long Beach, said in an email that chumming alters sharks’ behavior.
“Chumming or trying to bait sharks puts people at risk because it changes the sharks’ behavior—it puts them in a feeding mode when they may not be in a feeding mode,” Lowe wrote. Although there are no reports of chumming leading to attacks on humans, experts say it’s a growing concern.
Chumming is illegal in some parts of the world because of the danger it can pose by conditioning sharks to associate feeding with the presence of humans. But it is not illegal in California.
“Surprisingly, chumming off a beach or pier is not illegal in California; however, it should be,” Lowe said. “Since white sharks and many other large ocean predators are still recovering, there really needs to be new regulations to not only protect species like white sharks that are protected under California law, but also the public that is at-risk due to these kinds of recreational activities.”
Law enforcement in Malibu’s marine protected areas is the responsibility of the California Department of Fish & Wildlife’s (CDFW) Marine Enforcement Division. The offshore areas from Paradise Cove to Point Dume, designated as State Marine Preserve, don’t allow any fishing or taking of marine life. The area from Point Dume to El Matador State Beach is a State Marine Conservation Area (SMCA), where some recreational fishing is allowed with a fishing license.
Violators of fishing restrictions can receive written citations or even be arrested. Besides fish, some of the most commonly poached marine life includes abalone, crab and lobster. While CDFW does have patrol boats and skiffs, they tend to be understaffed and focus most of their efforts on commercial fishing operations.
Lt. Kory Collins of CDFW told TMT in a phone interview that he had reviewed the video and didn’t think any charges would be filed because chumming is not illegal, and because it was too difficult to tell exactly where the speedboat was when it caught the fish. He added that CDFW boat patrols had been notified of the situation.
Poachers, polluters or any fish and wildlife violation can be reported to CDFW at 888.334.CALTIP (888.334.2258), any time, day or night. For anonymous tips, use tip411 to send a text message or text CALTIP followed by a space and the message to 847411 (tip411).