Local Voices: Blood in the water

7960507255?profile=originalA mature hammerhead shark washed up dead at the south end of Highland Beach, probably

as the result of stress associated with hook-and-line sport fishing.


Photo provided by Capt. Steve Dougherty

    As the editor of Florida Sport Fishing magazine, I’ll be the first to admit there’s nothing wrong with the sustainable harvest of fresh seafood to feed family and friends. However, it is imperative that recreational anglers respect the ocean and its diverse inhabitants — particularly those that are endangered, protected or overfished.
    While Florida has extremely stringent fishing regulations and management plans in place, some of the most critically threatened shark species remain under attack right off our coast.
    It seems that every year, hysteria-filled news stories report of massive shark migrations that result in beach closings and fuel the longstanding stigma. In reality, it’s actually these misunderstood predators that are at risk of attack.
    A recent study conducted by scientists at the University of Miami observed the effects of catch and release on five shark species found throughout Florida’s coastal waters: hammerhead, bull, blacktip, lemon and tiger sharks. After conclusion of the three-year study it was determined through satellite tagging, blood and reflexology tests that hammerhead sharks, which are protected in state waters, are the most susceptible to post-release mortality and highly disturbed from the stress of catch-and-release sport fishing.
    Across the news and social media it’s common to see sharks caught from area beaches dragged up the sand to the awe and surprise of stunned onlookers. With these large predators already exhausted from the fight, keeping them out of the water for even a few moments can prove to be deadly.
    While anglers are permitted to catch and release protected sharks, they must do so in an effort that places the least amount of stress on the fish. Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission regulations state that protected shark species must be quickly released and immediately returned to the water alive and unharmed.
    It is a direct violation to land protected sharks or interfere with the act of releasing to obtain a measurement or pose for a photo, but violations are rarely enforced. Sharks simply don’t receive the same protection measures as sea turtles.
    In fact, several coastal communities have enacted ordinances prohibiting anglers from targeting sharks from area beaches in an effort to protect beachgoers. However, sharks forage Florida’s shorelines whether anglers are present or not, and these measures to safeguard area beaches actually protect sharks more than anything.
    Even though most anglers don’t intend to hurt sharks and claim that released sharks always swim away unscathed, many sharks ultimately perish hours or days after grueling battles.
    The facts are clear and shark populations are experiencing a global decline. Sharks are critical to the health and well-being of the entire marine ecosystem and it’s critical anglers promote sustainable fishing and handling practices to ensure the post-release survivability of the ocean’s greatest predators.

Capt. Steve Dougherty
Highland Beach

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