JUPITER, Fla. - It is a thrill unlike any other...hand feeding sharks. And it is a booming business that brings tourists to South Florida from all over the world.
But the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is cracking down because it is illegal to hand feed sharks in state waters.
FWC investigators and the Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office, working jointly, conducted two separate investigations involving two northern Palm Beach County dive charter operators.
On February 8th, deputies from the PBSO dive team took part in a dive trip on board Emerald Charters of Jupiter. During the dive, investigators say video was taken of Randall Jordan feeding sharks by hand while within state waters. Investigators say he also used a milk crate filled with fish chunks to lure sharks to his location.
"We get people from all over the world that come here just to see the sharks...they have an idea from Hollywood that sharks are dangerous and if they get anywhere near you they are going to eat you," Jordan said.
Florida Fish and Wildlife charged Jordan and three others with misdemeanors.
"Anytime you feed sharks it is unnatural. It changes their behavior and they expect it," David Bingham with FWC said.
But Jordan insists the sharks' behavior is not changed and he has the best interest of the sharks in mind. He says he wants to educate the public.
"Even when I am handling them or feeding them, they have no desire to eat me or the divers. They just want the treat. It's doesn't alter their behavior," Jordan said.
FWC investigators and PBSO divers say they used several GPS devices and other methods to confirm these activities were occurring in state waters, which, in the Atlantic, is within (or up to) 3 nautical miles from the nearest point of Florida coastline.
They say fish feeding in Florida waters has been illegal since 2002.
Jordan say he will continue to operate his business, but will move farther into international waters.
"It is 367 feet. It doesn't make a big difference to the sharks. They will follow me out half a mile. It doesn't matter," Jordan said.
The second degree misdemeanors are punishable by up to sixty days in jail and a fine up to $500.00.