Shark shooter identified, but has he broken any laws?

Earlier this month, a video of fishermen shooting a rifle at sharks appeared on YouTube and caused quite a stir. The video has since been removed, but not before shark conservation activists  made copies (warning: the videos are extremely graphic and have inappropriate language). Apparently some computers can access the site with the videos and others can’t, if you can’t access the site and want a copy of the videos just let me know. All images in this post are screenshots from the video.

The Global Shark Initiative posted the video on it’s website and asked members to help identify the fishermen. They reported earlier this week that he had been positively identified as a Key Largo, FL based fisherman who allegedly had a history of similar behavior (including killing a shark with a satellite tag and attempting to extort the researchers who owned the tag) .

A Global Shark Initiative leader, as well as many other concerned citizens and groups, contacted a local shark scientist. That scientist provided the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission (FWC) with a copy of the video.

At first glance, the fisherman is apparently guilty of violating several laws, including:

1) Catching lemon sharks (illegal in Florida waters),

2) Catching a smalltooth sawfish (a Federally listed endangered species),

3) Dismembering sharks at sea (illegal under the Shark Conservation Act).

4) Catching a great hammerhead (illegal under ICCAT policies)

5) Shooting a rifle at sharks

In response to the video, the FWC has determined that the fishermen isn’t guilty of breaking any laws. Catching lemon sharks is illegal in Florida waters, but not in Federal waters where this incident allegedly took place. There is no proof that he killed the sawfish (the video only shows him catching it). ICCAT regulations deal with hammerheads as bycatch from the tuna fishery and not directed catch. Shooting sharks to calm them down is apparently a common commercial fishing practice and isn’t illegal.

There is a bit of good news, however. Though he didn’t do anything technically illegal, the negative publicity associated with these videos has resulted in the fisherman losing his job. The company that he used to work for has a long record of working with fisheries observers and managers and they were horrified by the behavior of one of their employees.

The FWC and NOAA (who granted this fisherman a permit to catch sandbar sharks as part of the research fishery, which is what they were doing when the other incidents occurred) are investigating this situation further. I’ll continue to follow this story and will alert you if any charges are filed.

March 31, 2011 • 10:30 am