In just a few days, a whole bunch of new shark regulations are scheduled to take effect in Florida. Here are the new rules, which take effect on July 1:
• All shore-based shark fishermen age 16 or older (including those over age 65) must have a no-cost, annual permit. To qualify, anglers must complete an education course, which is now available at MyFWC.com/SharkCourse.
• Those under 16 must take the educational requirement associated with the permit, unless they are fishing with an adult who already holds the permit.
• “Shore-based shark fishing” means targeting or harvesting any species of shark when fishing from shore, wade fishing, or fishing from any structure attached to shore, including but not limited to bridges, piers, docks and jetties.
• Chumming from the beach is not allowed for any species. “The beach” is any area of shoreline along a body of marine or brackish water that is covered predominantly in sand, with sufficient sand above the mean high-water line to support sunbathing. (This still permits chumming from other land-based structures, such as piers and seawalls. What it means when such structures are close to a beach is as yet unclear.)
• All prohibited shark species must be immediately released when fishing from shore. If necessary, you must cut the leader, line or hook to prevent delaying such release.
• All prohibited shark species must remain in the water when fishing from shore or from a vessel. The rule specifies the gills must be underwater and the shark’s whole length must be in the water.
• Non-offset, non-stainless-steel circle hooks are required to target or harvest sharks when using live or dead natural bait, from shore or from a vessel.
• You must possess a device capable of quickly cutting the leader or hook when targeting sharks from shore or a vessel, and use it when necessary. (Basically, a bolt cutter or cable cutters.)
Now, are you a shark fisherman? Maybe, because fishing with any of the following gear or methods will be considered shore-based shark fishing regardless of the species targeted or harvested.
Read these carefully: Fishing with a metal leader greater than 4 feet in length; using a fighting belt, fighting harness or similar device; or deploying bait by any means other than casting from shore or casting while wade fishing, including but not limited to transporting or dropping the bait by or from a vessel, surf board, drone or by swimming, when using a hook measuring more than 1.5 inches. If you’re doing any of those, you’re shark fishing — no matter what you say your target species is.
So what is the online course like? For most fishermen, it’s going to be a lot of information coming at you quickly. The four modules took me about 35 minutes to get through, which included a couple pauses to take notes.
The anatomy part of Module 4 will be the hardest for the average angler. There’s a bit of ichthyology in there, and it gets pretty nerdy. But, as the course also hammers home several times, if you can’t ID your shark, treat it like it’s a prohibited species. If you don’t know, let it go.
Each module has both visual slides and audio. Be sure to review the info on each slide. A lot of the answers to the questions on my test were there.
For those of you who were C student in school, here’s some tough news: You have to get all 10 of the 10 questions on the final test correct. If you miss even one, you have to start over at the beginning. So pay attention!
When you pass the test, you’ll be sent a certificate with a unique code. That code can be used at GoOutdoorsFlorida.com to add the shore-based shark fishing permit to your license. You can’t do that at a tackle shop. I tried — the option doesn’t exist. What I ended up doing was adding the permit (which really is free) online, and then reprinting my license at a tackle shop, which cost $2.50.
Now, if you’re a shore-based shark angler, you need to have this permit to legally fish beginning Monday. That’s pretty short notice. I asked FWC public information specialist Amanda Nalley about enforcement, and she said officers will be focusing on educating anglers first and foremost.
I interpret that as they’ll be issuing warnings for a while. But I doubt they’ll be doing that for more than a month or two. Remember, there has been considerable pressure on regulators to limit or stop people shark fishing from the beach. This new set of laws will probably be enforced pretty rigorously, and it’s fairly easy to do since all it takes is beach patrols. If you’re a shore-based shark angler, I’d suggest you get your permit as soon as you can.
Contact Capt. Josh Olive at 941-276-9657 or Publisher@WaterLineWeekly.com.