Hammerhead shark deaths spark conversation about shark-friendly fishing
Robert Hueter is surrounded by sharks. On his desk lay wooden figurines, across his bookshelves are stacks of literature and mounted above his head is a shiny, blue replica flashing its sharp, white teeth.
The director of shark research at Mote Marine Laboratory doesn’t preach an anti-fishing message. He just wants anglers and beach-goers to know how to fish safely, which benefits sharks and humans.
Four great hammerhead sharks washed on Sarasota beaches from late June to July. It’s not illegal to fish for certain species of sharks. In Florida waters, up to 9 miles off the coast, it’s illegal to harvest great hammerheads and 24 other shark species. Harvest means anything that doesn’t involve releasing free an animal immediately, alive and unharmed.
“This particular species of hammerhead is just so fragile that they go into physiological stress,” Hueter said.
A number of factors contribute to the great hammerhead’s fragility.
“The hotter the water is, the less oxygen it can hold,” he said.
Less dissolved oxygen in the water makes it harder to breathe for sharks.
We’re seeing more than we’ve seen before washing up on the beaches.
Dr. Robert Hueter, director of shark research at Mote Marine Laboratory
Hueter added it’s possible when this particular species is hooked, the combination of fighting to swim and having a small mouth means they can’t take in enough oxygen to fulfill the needs of their large bodies.
“As soon as it’s obvious that it is a hammerhead, the better thing to do would be just to cut the line or cut the leader, get as close as you can to the animal without spending a lot of time pulling it in,” Hueter said. “Cut it and let it go.”
Mishandling sharks, especially during inshore angling where anglers bring sharks onto shore for pictures, can have drastic effects. Even if the shark is released, it can die within one to 12 hours.
“We’re seeing more than we’ve seen before washing up on the beaches,” he said.
Hammerheads are high on the fragile list. Next are bull and black tip sharks. Nurse and lemon sharks, Hueter said, handle being caught and released better.
Amanda Nalley, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission’s marine fisheries management, said FWC gets a lot of calls about sharks during times of the year when more people are at the beach in summer or spring break.
Even though these sharks washed ashore in Sarasota, it doesn’t mean they came from Sarasota waters. FWC public information officer Gary Morse said shark fishing at Bean Point on Anna Maria Island has become popular.
Nalley added inshore angling is also becoming more popular. If anglers want to take a picture, Nalley advises having someone ready with a camera and take the photo in the act of releasing the shark and not to take it out of the water.
The absolute best way to ensure a shark’s safety, she said, is to immediately cut the line.
“Use your best judgment,” Nalley said. “We don’t want it to become dangerous for the people in the water or for the angler.”
Appropriate gear is something Mote and FWC suggest. Use heavy tackle, nonstainless circle hooks that can rust out of the shark, and if anglers don’t have a dehooker, cut the leader as quickly as possible.
If anyone sees a dead shark or other fish wash ashore, they can call FWC’s statewide Fish Kill Hotline at 1-800-636-0511 or Mote’s Stranding Investigations Program at 941-988-0212.
How to fish in a shark friendly way
▪ Use heavy tackle, nonstainless circle hooks
▪ Use a dehooker
▪ Cut the leader or line quickly with the least possible amount left over
▪ Do not bring sharks out of water
▪ Leave shark in enough water it can breathe through its mouth and gills
▪ Shoot photos in process of releasing