Thursday, February 23, 2012

Fishing for Hammerheads


Sharks are among the most majestic, feared, and amazing creatures on earth. They are the biggest fish in the sea, with some, like the whale shark reaching lengths of an entire school bus. And some look truly breathtaking, like the hammerhead shark. Sharks have remained virtually unchanged for hundreds of millions of years and have been able to thrive. However, with modern mans invasions on them they are in great danger. Especially one of the most fascinating sharks, the great hammerhead shark. Hammerhead sharks have suffered an estimated 80% decrease in the past 25 years. Many states have put regulations on the catching, handling, and keeping of hammerhead sharks by fishermen; Florida being one of those states. Just recently, as on January 1st 2012, they have added the hammerhead shark to the list of protected and endangered species. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) and under The Florida code it indicates that

“(1) No person shall harvest, possess, land, purchase, sell, or exchange any or any part of these species:
…(k) Great hammerhead – Sphyrna mokarran.
…(3) “Harvest” means the catching or taking of a marine organism by any means whatsoever, followed by a reduction of such organism to possession. Marine organisms that are caught but immediately returned to the water free, alive, and unharmed are not harvested”
…(5) “Land,” when used in connection with the harvest of marine organisms, means the physical act of bringing the harvested organism ashore”  Florida code section 68B-44  (Emphasis mine)

However, there was a fisherman in Florida that hooked a 14 foot long hammerhead shark, reeled it in for an hour, landed it, measured it quickly, took pictures, and then spent the next hour reviving the shark back to it’s normal conditions in order to swim off to sea in what seemed to be a healthy condition. This article is posted by a graduate student in Florida studying the conservation of sharks who argues that this is not just a normal case of catch and release, but was actually in violation of the endangered species code. The author states that this incidence is in violation of the Florida code because the anglers attempted to weigh the shark, but it was to heavy; and also did not release the fish immediately because they were taking pictures of it. According to Florida law, it is not legal to even hold a fish that is not legal to harvest. Therefore, in this definition of the law the anglers seem to be in violation of the Florida code.
On the other hand, another expert in shark conservation Chuck Bangley says that there must be some leniency in this case. Although, they did not release the shark at the exact moment they saw it was a hammerhead shark, they did follow the best release practices and showed both care and respect for the animal ultimately releasing it alive without noticeable harm. The author of the article agrees with Chuck Bangley and says this example should be used as a teaching experience. I completely agree. In my opinion, I do not think that angler did anything wrong to purposely harm the fish. As someone who grew up in Florida, fishing my entire life I understand where the angler is coming from. Until the fish is actually landed it is somewhat hard to tell what species it actually is, especially in shore fishing. You can have a good idea, but you cannot know for sure it could have been one of many species of shark. In addition, I know if I caught a once in a lifetime magnificent creature like that I would like to snap a quick photograph to remember the beauty of the fish. It seemed that the angler had the upmost respect for the fish; it is not like the angler started kicking the shark in the face for no reason or anything. The author also states that the fish most likely died later on. I have caught many fish in Florida, including sharks, and once the fish swims away it seems to me that they are energetic and will live healthy if the proper care is taken; I do not believe the author can say with confidence that the shark likely died. I understand that the upmost care and respect needs to be taken in order to preserve these magnificent animals and his concern, but, I dont think the angler did anything wrong. What do you guys think? There is also an interesting response from the angler that is worth reading at the end of the article. 


  1. I believe that there is nothing wrong with what the angler did to the shark. Yes, he did bring it out of the water and it was not just a catch release, but I agree with you, he properly did everything that he could to make sure the shark was in great condition and was going to be able to survive once back in the water. Who wouldn't want a picture of something like that, that they personally caught. Overall, the angler did what was right in returning it back to the water unharmed and healthy, so I do not believe he should get in trouble by the law because of this. What I do believe to be true though is if more and more people begin to do this and it becomes a problem and actually begins to keep endangering the shark then more strict measures should be enforced. Do you know if the angler got in trouble or fined?

  2. You make a good point that it may not always be easy to distinguish a particular species. You don't really know what you catch until you reel it in. If you aren't an expert and catch an unfamiliar organism, there's a good chance you won't know what it is. I think that the angler was right in respectfully handling his catch. I think this should be a typical policy of any uncertain catch. I do agree with Angie in that if this happens more and more, it could become a problem only because the issue could eventually be taken too lightly. It is important to keep these laws enforced.