ACTION ALERT: Protect Florida sharks from harmful fishing practices

After years of scientists and conservationists complaining about problems with common land-based shark fishing practices, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is finally taking action! At their April meeting, FWC formally announced that they are considering revising regulations governing this activity with the goal of restricting the unnecessary and cruel handling practices that result in killing protected species of sharks.

(For background on this topic, please read my detailed open letter, or this summary of my research).

Here are the options that FWC is considering.

Examples of unequivocally illegal shark fishing from Shiffman and Friends 2017

 

How can you help? Either physically attend a workshop or send a formal comment online!

 

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An open letter to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission on revising land-based recreational shark fishing regulations

Note: The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) is holding a public meeting on April 25th which will include the issue of land-based recreational shark fishing. Part of my dissertation research focused on this topic, so I am submitting expert testimony, but since I no longer live in Florida I am submitting it remotely. I am sharing my testimony here. Anyone else who is interested in attending the meeting in person (Fort Lauderdale Marriott on April 25th), or submitting testimony remotely, is free to quote my talking points below if the appropriate references are cited. 

Dear Chair Rivard, Vice Chair Spottswood, Commissioner Kellam, Commissioner Lester, Commissioner Nicklaus, Commissioner Rood, and Commissioner Sole of the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC),

My name is Dr. David Shiffman, and I studied land-based shark fishing in Florida as part of my Ph.D. dissertation at the University of Miami’s Abess Center for Ecosystem Science and Policy. This research was published in the peer-reviewed scientific journal Fisheries Research (here’s a link to an open access copy) and covered in major media outlets including National Geographic, Nature, and the Miami Herald. Accordingly, I would like to provide expert testimony for your April 25th public hearing on this topic. Since I no longer reside in Florida I am submitting this testimony remotely. As a conservation biologist who spent years studying harmful practices among some elements of the land-based Florida shark fishing community, I am grateful to see FWC holding a public meeting that includes this important issue, and I am grateful for the opportunity to contribute.

Overall, the scientific evidence is clear and overwhelming that while many anglers are rule-following and conservation-minded, many common land-based shark fishing practices represent a significant conservation threat to threatened, protected shark species in Florida. Additionally, the evidence is clear and overwhelming that in many cases anglers are breaking existing laws and regulations, and that in some of those cases the anglers are aware that they are breaking the law and are explicitly stating that they don’t care. Finally, the evidence is clear and overwhelming that many of the arguments put forward by land-based anglers in support of the status quo are not argued in good faith, and are intentionally crafted to misrepresent the facts of the situation.

It is obvious to me, and to many expert colleagues with whom I have discussed this issue, that the FWC can and must do more to protect threatened sharks, building off of early successes that made Florida a leader in shark conservation. Specifically, the FWC can and must do more to regulate these harmful practices, enforce clear violations of existing regulations, and educate anglers about these issues. Below I will elaborate on each of these points and propose specific regulatory, enforcement, and public education changes that can be made to protect sharks without significantly infringing on anyone’s rights. I will also counter several common arguments that are put forth by bad actors in the recreational angling community.

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Background information on our land-based shark fishing paper

A photo used in this study showing a hammerhead shark taken completely out of the water. As with all photos used in this study, the angler’s privacy has been protecting by blurring out his face.

I have a new paper out on the conservation impacts of recreational shark fishing. The paper is called “fishing practices and representations of shark conservation issues among users of a land-based shark angling online forum,” and it is published in the journal Fisheries Research. If you don’t have institutional library access, you can read a copy of the paper here. The goal of this blog post is to provide background information on the study.

Journalists are free to quote or paraphrase information from this blog post. Additionally, I provide some suggested quotes below, and I am available for interviews about this paper (please contact me at WhySharksMatter at gmail).

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37 things I learned about shark ecology and conservation for my dissertation

The fam attending my dissertation defense

The fam attending my dissertation defense

After a little more than 5 years of hard work, I’ve officially completed my Ph.D.! You can read my dissertation (“An Integrative and Interdisciplinary Approach to Shark Conservation: Policy Solutions, Ecosystem Role, and Stakeholder Attitudes”) online here in its entirety.

In case there are some among you who don’t really want to read a 281 page dissertation but are curious about what I found, I’ve prepared this blog post to summarize my key conclusions. (Note: this does not include every conclusion. Some are aggregated together, and some more technical conclusions are omitted for this summary).

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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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