Shark interactions while fishing the focus of FWC discussion

Special to Gannett
Shortfin mako shark

At its May meeting, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) hosted a roundtable discussion focused on the issue of shark interactions when fishing, such as sharks taking anglers’ catch before getting it to the boat.

The discussion also included a staff presentation that covered a recently conducted FWC survey focused on anglers’ experiences with predators when saltwater fishing.

“Sharks interacting with fishermen’s catch is an issue we are hearing about more and more,” said FWC Chairman Rodney Barreto. “We are proud to have gathered together such a high-caliber group of experts and thank all of them for sharing their perspectives on interactions between fishermen and sharks in Florida. FWC looks forward to continued engagement with our panel and hearing from the public.”

“As some shark populations recover and more fishers are on the water, these increased interactions with sharks are likely to occur,” added FWC Commissioner Mike Sole. “This conversation is a starting point in helping us better understand shark interactions while fishing, and promoting dialogue between fishery managers, fishermen, scientists and conservationists about this issue.”

The FWC will continue to stay engaged on the future management of sharks in Florida.

Quotes from a few of the panelists:

“It’s not simply a matter of too many sharks. Knowing which of these species have recovered, which have not and which are interacting with fishing gear is essential because with the wrong management measures we could drive the past 30 years of conservation success right back into the ground,” said Dr. Robert Hueter, senior scientist emeritus for Mote Marine Laboratory and chief scientist for OCEARCH. “Today, we should be celebrating Florida’s return of its top marine predators vital for a healthy ocean. What we need to do is give fishermen the tools to minimize their interactions.”

“The unanimous consensus in the commercial fishing community is that the high number of shark interactions are indicative of an overpopulation of many shark species as a result of management measures and this comes at great cost to commercial fishermen and the seafood supply chain,” said commercial wholesale dealer Mike Merrifield, co-owner of Wild Ocean Seafood Market. “Some sharks can be sustainably harvested and need to be managed through sound science, not emotional public opinion.”

“We must ensure that we have shark fisheries that balance the needs of the ocean with the needs of the fishing industry,” said NOAA federal fishery manager Karyl Brewster-Geisz.