FWC may restrict shoreline shark fishing

Shark fishing
Shark fishing on Anna Maria Island’s beaches draws crowds and criticism. - Cindy Lane | Sun

Beachgoers’ concerns about shoreline shark fishing have prompted the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) to consider tightening shark fishing rules at its February hearing.

Proposed changes include prohibiting chumming for sharks from beaches, requiring a free, annual shore-based shark fishing permit necessitating online education, and requiring the use of non-offset, non-stainless-steel circle hooks when fishing from shore or a vessel.

The FWC gave preliminary approval to the proposals last week based on input from public workshops around the state last summer, with a goal of maximizing the survival of released sharks and minimizing public safety concerns.

“Increased public interest in shark conservation combined with growing human use of coastal areas and increasing attention surrounding shore-based shark fishing has led to increasing public concerns about shark mortality and disagreements about the compatibility of shore-based shark fishing and other shore-based recreational activities,” FWC Director of Marine Fisheries Management Jessica McCawley wrote in a memo on the draft rule.

Shark fishing
Shark fishing on Anna Maria Island’s beaches draws crowds and criticism. – Cindy Lane | Sun

A common concern of beachgoers is that shoreline shark fishing draws sharks to nearshore waters where people are swimming, but “sharks regularly inhabit and feed in nearshore water and there is no credible evidence that fishing increases the likelihood of a shark bite occurring in nearby waters,” according to a presentation made to the commission about the proposed rules last week in St. Augustine.

FWC draft rule proposal on chumming

68B-2.011 Chumming.

(1) It is unlawful for any person to place chum in the water for the purposes of fishing from a beach or wade fishing in waters immediately adjacent to a beach. This shall not be construed to prohibit the use of a baited hook when fishing with hook and line gear, placing bait in a trap authorized pursuant to 68B-4.020 in order to target marine organisms by enticing them to enter the trap, or the use of a baited trotline for the harvest of blue crab.

(2) For the purposes of this rule, “chum” means fish, fish parts, other animal products, or synthetic products created or intended to chemically or otherwise resemble animal products placed in the water for the purpose of attracting a marine organism.

(3) For the purposes of this rule, “beach” shall be defined as any area of shoreline along a body of marine or brackish water that is covered predominantly in sand, with sufficient sand above the mean high-water line to support sunbathing.

Under the rule, any person fishing from shore and using one of the following gears or fishing methods would be considered a shore-based shark angler regardless of the species targeted – using a fighting belt or harness, using a metal leader longer than four feet in length or deploying bait by any means other than casting (such as kayaking out a bait).

The rule also would prohibit delaying the release of prohibited shark species for any reason other than removing the hook or cutting the hook or line, and require that prohibited sharks remain in the water as much as practical while ensuring the safety of anglers.

“Post-release shark mortality in the shore-based fishery can be caused by stress on the animal from lengthy fight times that sometimes occur when bringing the shark to shore, which can disproportionately affect some species, including the great hammerhead,” according to the presentation. “Another potential cause of post-release mortality is injury to a shark’s internal organs which may be caused by bringing large sharks out of the water or damage to gills as a result of being exposed to air.”