State of the Field: Is catch-and-release fishing harmful to sharks?

In the wake of the new Marianas Islands shark conservation law, a debate has been raging on the shark  listservs. The law wouldn’t have been possible without support from several local recreational fishermen- people who often take tourists catch-and-release fishing for sharks.

“When I heard of your effort in Hawaii to ban the sale,trade and possession of shark fins I knew if the CNMI was to follow someone with inside connections to the fishing world there had to espouse it and grow it.  They do not like being told what to do from outsiders.  I was not an outsider, and I fished alongside two of the very top level fishermen who happened to be upper level politicians whom I respected.  Rep. Diego Benevente was one of them.  I spoke with him and asked him to introduce a bill which replicated Hawaii’s law, and he did so. I kept constant contact with him and his staff in the effort to see this bill become law.”- Captain William McCue

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Many shark conservationists support catch-and-release fishing, claiming that it allows fishermen the thrill of catching a large animal without killing it. Captain McCue reports that in the last 20 years:

“I’ve caught over 300 sharks in the that time a killed four- and if you include spiny dogfish it’s caught well over 2000 sharks and still killed only four- two of which were promptly eaten.”

However, some (such as “My Sunset Rendezvous” author Ila France Porcher) claim that even when a shark is released, the stress from being caught often still causes long-term damage or even death.

“As a shark ethologist, I have personally witnessed sharks who were hooked and fought, and who broke the line, emerge from the ordeal with a jaw so damaged that they lost weight and died over the following weeks or months. A high fraction of sharks caught suffered this fate, and they suffered greatly as a result of this enjoyable passtime pursued by sports fishermen. It would be great news to hear that you switched from a blood sport to a sport that celebrates the life that still remains in our seas, such as diving and photography.” – Ila France Porcher

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