Have you ever been at the beach and seen people throwing bread in the water? The jetty in Waikiki is a prime spot for fish-feeding. But is fish feeding bad?
Overall yes, fish feeding should be avoided. It is harmful to the fish, the people in the water (whether it be snorkelers, swimmers, or divers), and to the ecosystem.
1. Hand-feeding fish and other marine life promotes a behavior called conditioning, where the animal learns to associate humans with food. And let’s face it, humans do not know how to give fish the right foods. Just like humans, fishes need important amino acids in their diets, of which they can only receive from their natural diet – not bread (or any other food humans give out). A fish’s natural diet is quite complicated and may be seasonal, daily, or temporal. When fish start to anticipate meal times with humans, it interferes with their natural feeding cycles.
2. Hand-fed fish are more vulnerable to predators. A healthy marine community relies on competition for habitat and food. Have you ever noticed that different species feed during different times of the day? Introducing an unnatural meal disturbs these competitive relationships and can lead to feeding frenzies.
3. Humans caught in a feeding frenzy, or in a location where fishes are regularly fed, may be injured. As a result of behavioral conditioning through fish feeding, unprovoked marine animals may attack (bite) humans thinking they will receive food or mistaking fingers and other body parts for food.
4. Hand-feeding fish takes a toll on the marine environment, too. The majority of reef fishes are grazers, meaning they only eat algae. They keep the growth of the algae on coral reefs under control so that the reefs aren’t smothered. When regularly introduced to unnatural food like bread, their bellies get too full to graze on algae, and the algae may become overgrown.
If fish feeding is so bad, why do people still do it? A lot of people may be misinformed, uninformed, uneducated, or just plain ignorant: they feel like they are helping the fish, doing them a favor; they are feeding the fish for their own entertainment; they see other people feeding fish and think it’s OK (follow by example).
We encourage you to be proactive and to do your research before you interact with the ocean, whether it be snorkeling, surfing, sailing, or diving. If we can all be responsible for our own actions, we can make our oceans healthier. And for your own safety, if you are in the water during a hand feeding fish frenzy, get away (fish have sharp teeth too).