KEY LARGO,, Fla., Nov. 1 (UPI) -- The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission voted 7-0 Thursday to ban shark-feeding trips for divers on grounds it changes the behavior of the predators.
The ban, which covers trips by four different dive operators out of Key West, Fla., goes into effect Jan. 1.
The Diving Equipment and Marketing Association filed a suit in Circuit Court in Tallahassee, Fla., challenging any ban. Both the Humane Society in Washington and the Florida Marine Safety Group condemned the organization for the suit.
The dive operators said the commission was reacting to recent media hype concerning shark attacks. Commissioners said the publicity this summer surrounding attacks had nothing to do with the ban, but rather it is the result of two years of hearings and study into the problem.
George Burgess, director of the International Shark Attack File in Gainesville, Fla., said there have been 36 attacks this year and were 39 for the entire year of 2000. He said he was more concerned that the feeding trips alter the behavior of sharks.
He said sharks in the area react to the sound of boat motors. He also said sharks appear to be abandoning one area for an area where they know they will be fed, leaving their original location with no sharks at the top of the food chain.
The commission cited some of the same concerns preceding the vote.
Commissioners said that feeding sharks teaches them to seek people and puts divers and swimmers at risk.
Ban opponent Spencer Slate said there was no reason for the ban.
"We sent out a signal throughout the world that divers, we don't want you here," Slate said. "It's another negative impact that the commission has leveled on the state of Florida's economy which is hurting anyway."
The ban covers feeding all marine life for divers, although it does not affect the practice of "chumming" -- dropping fish parts into the water to attract other fish for anglers.