For years, there has been a growing controversy about shark fishing — land-based shark fishing in particular. For some reason, the general public is unhappy about the idea of anglers catching 6- to 14-foot sharks on the same beaches where they go to swim.
Of course, we know the truth: Fishermen go to where the fish are, and whether someone is trying to catch them or not, those sharks are going to be within a few hundred feet of local beaches. That’s a simple fact. We might think of them as places to relax, but they’re really shark habitat.
Well, as often happens, enough folks got upset that the issue came to the attention of the authorities. And, as authorities do, they’ve come up with a set of rules to regulate shark fishing a little more tightly.
This particular batch of rules comes from the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. At the moment, they’re only drafts — but they’ll be voting in February whether to make them law. Let’s go through each proposed change.
• Creating a mandatory, no-cost, annual shore-based shark fishing permit. Alright, it’s a little bit of a hassle — but you already have to have a fishing license. I’m just not sure what the point of this is. If there were some kind of online class that went along with it (perhaps instruction on shark handling and species identification), I’d like it better. As it is, all I can see this doing is providing the state with an approximate number of people catching sharks from shore. However, those numbers will make no distinction between hard-core beach boys targeting tiger and hammerhead sharks and the pier angler who catches an occasional blacktip or bonnethead.
• Prohibiting chumming when fishing for any species from the beach. This one needs some explanation. Do they mean chumming from the beach itself? If so, no problem. Chumming from the beach itself is something only googans do anyway. If they mean chumming from a kayak a couple hundred yards out while the rod is back on the beach, that’s a problem of fairness. I mean, if I can go in my boat and chum that area, but it’s illegal for you because your feet are on the sand, that ain’t right. And what about pier fishing, where chum is used for a wide variety of species?
• Prohibiting delaying the release of prohibited shark species when fishing from the shore. This one makes good sense, especially in light of what we’ve learned about shark biology in recent years. It was once believed that sharks were hard to kill. You can find stories about sharks hung up at the dock hours after being caught suddenly coming to life and biting someone. But there’s a big difference between the involuntary actions of a simple nervous system shutting down (which is what causes those delayed biting reactions that we also see in snakes and alligators) and actual survival. Sharks are quite delicate, and less stress means they’re more likely to survive after release.
• Requiring that prohibited shark species remain in the water (when fishing from shore and from a vessel). This goes along with the previous issue. It’s worth pointing out that the bodies of large aquatic animals are supported mostly by the water surrounding them. When that water suddenly isn’t there, their weight can be enough to cause crush injuries to internal organs. Not only that, but dragging these fish up onto the sand causes thousands of small skin injuries and can fill their gills with sediment. This rule should apply to any big fish that must be released, and similar regulations are already in place for tarpon, Goliath grouper and billfish.
• Requiring the use of non-offset, non-stainless-steel circle hooks with live or dead natural bait (when fishing from shore and from a vessel). The FWC has an admirable goal here — they’re trying to prevent sharks being gut-hooked. Inline circle hooks will do a good job of that. But what goes in must come out, and there’s the problem. Circle hooks have to rotate in, and to be removed without causing serious damage, they have to be rotated back out. It can be tricky with a redfish — let alone a fish with jaws of cartilage surrounded by tough tissues, leathery skin and teeth that can slice you up an angry samurai.
There’s the additional issue of sharks as bycatch. Let’s say you’re targeting kingfish and a blacktip shark takes your bait. Under current regulations, no problem. But if there’s a circle hook requirement, and you’re using J-hooks for mackerel fishing, you’d have to release the shark since it wasn’t caught on legal gear. Same thing for a trout fisherman whose shrimp is grabbed by a bonnethead.
• Requiring the possession/use of a device capable of quickly cutting the leader or hook (when fishing from shore or a vessel). This is a very good idea, and really something all shark fishermen should be doing already — even if only for safety purposes, since sometimes the ability to cut a leader or hook is crucial in an emergency. It could help with the circle hook problem: It’s a lot easier for the fish to shake the hook out if it’s been cut in half. But I wonder how many anglers would be willing to buy a $100 bolt cutter for slicing through hooks, and then carry that massive tool in sandy and/or salty conditions.
Naturally, these are just my opinions. Some of you will have your own. If you want to share them with the FWC before they make a final ruling, I’d suggest you plan to be at that February meeting. The location hasn’t been announced yet, but when it is you can find it at http://bit.ly/2zViGde.
Contact Capt. Josh Olive at 941-276-9657 or Publisher@WaterLineWeekly.com.