June 17, 2015 / 8:50 PM / 4 years ago

Massachusetts sets restrictions on shark-baiting tours

BOSTON (Reuters) - Massachusetts is cracking down on shark cruises off its Atlantic Ocean beaches, worried that the tourist-drawing stunt of baiting great white sharks could lead to attacks on swimmers.

Visitors have associated the New England state’s beaches with the massive predators since the 1975 Academy Award-winning movie “Jaws,” which was largely shot on the Massachusetts island of Martha’s Vineyard off Cape Cod.

For the past five years, the state has seen regular summer visits from great whites up to 17 feet (5.2 m) in length, according to state records.

The phenomenon has sparked a cottage industry of shark tourist cruises where visitors are invited to toss chopped-up fish parts known as “chum” and seal decoys into the water in hopes of spotting one of the giant sharks.

Worried that the tours could lead the sharks to associate people with food, the state’s Division of Fisheries this month imposed restrictions making it illegal to attract or capture the sharks without a “white shark special permit” from the agency. Companies and people who violate the rule will face fines of up to $100, according to a state directive.

California put a similar regulation in place last year.

A person who answered the phone at Cape Cod Shark Adventures, one of the companies offering shark tours, declined to comment on the regulations, saying only that they cast sharks in a “negative” light and could damage his business. He hung up the phone when asked for his name.

In an illustration of the risks sharks can pose, two swimmers were injured in shark attacks while swimming off North Carolina’s Oak Island on Sunday. A 16-year-old boy lost an arm and a 12-year-old girl lost part of an arm.

Another shark-themed Cape Cod business welcomed Massachusetts’ move, calling it necessary to keep tourists confident in their safety while swimming.

“It’s dangerous to do anything that attracts sharks to people and boats because then they get accustomed to interacting with humans,” said Justin Labdon, whose Chatham gift shop capitalizes on sharks’ popularity with a “Chatham Whites” line of clothing with a great white logo. “If the interest in sharks goes away it’s going to be because someone got killed, that will tank my business. Not this.”

Editing by Scott Malone and Mohammad Zargham

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