Florida angler catches (and likely kills) Endangered great hammerhead shark


Image taken from the South Florida shark fishing club online forum. Photographer undisclosed. I have blocked out the angler's face to protect his identity

Update: The angler who originally caught the shark has responded. Please see below.

On February 5th, while standing on a beach in Miami,  a fisherman caught a 14 foot great hammerhead shark. According to his account, “we had it beached within an hour of hooking it. The fish weighed too much her girth was huge. Just the 2 of us wasn’t enough to get it out of the water….We snapped some pictures with our dying camera, measured it at 170 inches and spent the next hour walking back and forth with HER reviving her…it swam off slow and steady”

While this might appear to be a simple case of catch-and-release recreational fishing, it is not. My lab and I are  supporters of sustainable catch and release fishing.  However, it is important to note that since January 1, 2012, great hammerheads (an IUCN Red List Endangered species) have been a protected species in Florida state waters and have additional legal protections. The Florida code 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)

In this incident, the shark was brought ashore. We can infer from the statement “the fish weighed too much her girth was huge. Just the 2 of us wasn’t enough to get it out of the water” that the fisherman attempted to pull it all the way out of the water, but was unable to do so (an important legal distinction) . Instead, he ended up beaching it, bringing it so far out that it could not move or breathe. The angler did not immediately release the animal. According to the angler’s account, it was measured and photographed prior to the attempt to resuscitate it. The shark was not released alive and unharmed. By the angler’s own admission, it took over an hour of resuscitation before the animal was able to even swim away slowly.

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The top 10 shark conservation stories of 2011

Caribbean reef shark, Bimini. Photo credit: David Shiffman

2011 was a relatively good year for sharks and rays. Presented below, in no particular order, are ten important shark conservation stories from the past year.

1. Shark sanctuaries. The world gained several new shark sanctuaries, areas where shark fishing is banned, in 2011. Nations creating new shark sanctuaries include Honduras (~92,000 square miles), the Bahamas (~240,000 square miles), Marshall Islands/Guam/Palau (a regional partnership protecting almost 2 million square miles). Numerous concerns about enforcing rules in these huge areas, as well as concerns about potential loopholes in the policies, exist among conservation scientists.

2. Fin bans. These laws ban the possession, trade, or sale of shark fins within the boundaries of a city, state/territory, or country. In 2011, Hawaii’s first-in-the-US fin ban took effect, and a few other US states (California, Washington, and Oregon) passed similar laws. There is an ongoing debate in the shark conservation community about whether blanket bans on finning are better than promoting best practices (i.e. more sustainable shark fishing techniques). Additionally, some are concerned that we aren’t focusing enough on other threats to sharks like bycatch and habitat destruction.

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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.

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