Governor Gavin Newsom signed into law Assembly Bill 2109 on September 19, 2022, providing new protections for white sharks in California waters. White sharks (Carcharodon carcharias, aka great white sharks), are a protected species in state and federal waters, and serve as critical members of ocean ecosystem as apex predators.
“It’s unlawful to place any shark bait, shark lure, or shark chum into the water within one nautical mile of any shoreline, pier, or jetty when a white shark is either visible or known to be present.” US Fish and Wildlife Code
Sponsored by Assemblymember Steve Bennett (District 37, Santa Barbara, Ventura), Bill 2109 passed the California legislature with an overwhelming majority of support. The goal of the restrictions to attract large sharks will help avoid increased interactions between white sharks and humans, and will give law enforcement more tools to protect white sharks from intentional efforts to catch or attract them. The new law will also increase public safety by reducing from interactions with white sharks that have been unintentionally hooked by fishermen by restricting when and where chum and shark bait can be used, while still allowing other legal fishing activities to continue.
However, non profit watch dogs including Shark Stewards and scientists at the University of California Long Beach have documented numerous cases of intentional sports fishermen catching white sharks on public piers and beaches. In many cases, fishermen release the sharks gaffed, injured, fatigued and agitated. Chumming near public beaches also attracts large sharks to areas of recreation, placing swimmers and surfers at risk.
In July 2014 marathon swimmer Stephen Robles was bit while swimming near the Manhattan Beach Pier by an agitated white shark that had been played for over 40 minutes and then cut free. In a viral YouTube video the anglers can be heard laughing as the shark swims towards the group Robles routinely trained with. The fishermen claimed they were fishing for bat rays, however the strength of the line far exceeded any strength necessary for the much smaller fish. Other near misses have been documented and the use of chum and heavy fishing gear including large hooks, gaffs and high test line on public piers is common and has been well documented under Shark Steward’s Shark Watch program.
“Sharks are one of California’s most iconic marine species, and it’s our responsibility to ensure that their populations are sustained,” Assemblymember Bennett said. “At the same time, public safety is of the utmost importance.”
The new rules regarding take of white sharks go into effect on January 1, 2023. These rules, found in California Fish and Game Code, section 5517, prohibit the use of shark bait, shark lures or shark chum to attract a white shark. Anglers also may not place those items into the water within one nautical mile of any shoreline, pier or jetty, when a white shark is visible or known to be present.
“We have well documented events of recreational fishermen chumming and gaffing protected white sharks and pregnant sevengill sharks on public beaches and piers using shark gear and heavy gaffs directed at no other species other than large sharks,” said David McGuire, Director of Shark Stewards.
“This is a great first step to reduce harm to these iconic species, however an outright chum ban in state waters would increase public safety, reduce impact on large sharks of all species using coastal waters as a nursery site, and make it easier for wardens to cite wrongdoers who target protected sharks.”
The rules may also limit curious shark watchers attracting sharks at aggregations for photography and social media posts which can lead to injuries to white sharks from boats, and alter the behavior of the sharks near popular swimming and surfing spots near Santa Barbara and Santa Cruz.
“We have seen increased use of California beaches as nursery habitat for juvenile white sharks,” said Dr. Chris Lowe, a professor in marine biology and director of the Shark Lab at California State University, Long Beach. “This bill will help reduce fishery interactions with white sharks, helping the protected sharks and ocean users by reducing the risk of hooking these sharks at public beaches and ocean piers where people are swimming, surfing and diving.”
For more information about white sharks, download Shark Steward’s White Shark science sheet.