By Melissa Recks
Sharks are a critical part of the marine environment, helping keep both the ecosystem and fisheries in balance. Many shark species also rely on
Florida’s shallow coastal waters as nursery and feeding grounds. But several species have suffered severe declines in recent decades.
In 2011, NOAA Fisheries determined the northwest Atlantic stock of scalloped hammerheads was overfished and undergoing overfishing. Other species, including the great and smooth hammerhead and the tiger shark, have also suffered a greater than 50% decline in population numbers.
The fact that large pregnant females predictably show up in Florida waters at known times and locations, coupled with the regular use of shallow nearshore waters by juveniles make these sharks especially vulnerable when they are in state waters.
In order to aid in the recovery of these sharks and ensure they are protected for future generations, the FWC is prohibiting the harvest and possession of tiger sharks and great, smooth and scalloped hammerheads caught in state waters beginning January 1, 2012.
Anglers are still allowed to catch and release all species of sharks and to harvest hammerheads and tiger sharks from federal waters. However, any tiger shark or great, scalloped or smooth hammerhead harvested from federal waters must be brought directly back to land, without stopping in state waters.
The FWC is also urging anglers to exercise caution when handling and releasing sharks. Shark fishing is becoming increasingly popular, making the survival of released sharks even more important. The FWC strongly encourages anglers to use non-stainless steel, non-offset circle hooks when fishing for sharks and urges anglers to cut the line or leader as close to the hook as possible (leaving the hook in place) if the hook cannot be easily removed without endangering the angler or the shark. Both shore and vessel based anglers who plan to release a large shark are encouraged to keep the shark in the water at all times and to release it
unharmed as quickly as possible.
Photo Courtesy of ThinkOutLoudProductions.com