By LIZ HARDAWAY
Reeling in a shark is surreal. It’s a strong, dangerous animal, pulling away with the force of one of the ocean’s top apex predators.
You can’t help but imagine Jaws on the other end, the salty waves spraying in your eyes, your footing getting loose as the boat teeters. It’s a battle, and this animal could kill you if it wanted to.
However, there are rules to shark fishing, along with a few new ones that took effect July 1.
The largest change pertains to shore-based shark fishing, including a required course for anyone over the age of 16 wishing to catch a shark from shore. They then have to get a free, annual permit.
As of July 9, there have been 104 shore-based shark fishing permits issued to Charlotte County residents, seven permits to DeSoto County residents and 125 permits to Sarasota County residents, according to Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) spokesperson Amanda Nalley.
There have been over 4,600 permits issued statewide, with a fifth of these going to out-of-state residents.
Fishing without the license is considered a level-one violation. Anyone cited could have to pay $50. Since the license is so new, though, FWC officers are first promoting education and make decisions of fines on a case-by-case basis, according to Nalley.
“These rules are intended to increase survival of released sharks, improve information gathering for the fishery and address some of the public safety concerns related to the fishery,” the FWC states on its website.
The training is required for everyone who wants to catch a shark from the shore, unless they are under 16 years old and fishing with someone who already holds the permit.
You are not required to have this permit if you want to fish for sharks from a boat.
The course includes four modules: the introductory module, shark fishing regulations, shark-smart fishing and shark anatomy and identification. Participants must score 100 percent on the 10-question quiz in order to receive certification.
Once the course is completed, participants can get their permit from GoOutdoorsFlorida.com for free. The permit expires after a year, and anglers are required to renew this annually.
Prohibited sharks and species
There are 27 shark species that are prohibited from harvest, according to the FWC.
If you do catch a prohibited species, the entire shark must be in the water with its gills submerged. Do not delay the release for photos or measuring.
Several species can be identified from fin placement, comparing where the first large fin on top to where the bottom fins near the gills are located, tail shapes and whether there is an interdorsal ridge to determine a shark’s identity.
Almost all sharks with an interdorsal ridge, or a visible line of raised skin between the dorsal fins, are prohibited from harvest. There are a few exceptions, though, such as the oceanic whitetip and smooth dogfish.
The FWC also has many resources and guides to help anglers identify sharks. However, the course stresses if you don’t know what kind of shark you’ve caught, treat it as a prohibited species and release the shark without delay.
A list of prohibited sharks can also be found on FWC’s website.
Some sharks, such as bull sharks, nurse sharks and oceanic whitetips, have a 54-inch minimum size limit.
Sawfish and manta rays are federally-listed under the Endangered Species Act and anglers are required to release these species without delay. If you catch a sawfish, report it to 1-844-4SAWFISH.
Shark fishing regulations
Violating any of the following regulations could be considered a second-degree misdemeanor, and punishable by up to 60 days in jail and/or up to $500 in fines, according to Nalley:
The daily bag limit is one shark per person per day, with a maximum of two sharks per vessel.
Chumming, or using real or synthetic animal products to attract animals, from the beach is prohibited when fishing for anything. However, bait attached to hooks are excluded from this.
Anglers are required to use non-stainless steel, non-offset circle hooks when fishing for sharks. These hooks are known to be easier to remove, more likely to rust away, and are more likely to hook the corner of the shark’s mouth, which makes dehooking easier.
Anglers must possess a device capable of quickly cutting the leader or hook, such as a bolt cutter or cable cutters.
If the shark you are trying to release dies, call the FWC Fish Kill Hotline at 800-636-0511.