Shark-fishing contests raise controversy
Waters churn as advocates tussle over sport-fishing contests.
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“The US recreational and commercial fleets take between 4 and 5 percent of the total number of makos taken worldwide,” says James, who notes that the impact of his tournament on world mortality rates – 14 sharks were retained at the Oak Bluff tournament in July – is negligible.Skip to next paragraph
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But opponents say that many more sharks die after release because of injuries from hooks and gaffs used during capture.
Since the 1960s, scientists have learned quite a bit by studying the sharks caught at tournaments. They have assessed a number of species for size, sex, age, reproduction, and food consumption data. These opportunities provide scientists with data that would otherwise require expensive research cruises or studies to acquire.
“The list of information as yet unknown on sharks is too long to reproduce,” says Lisa Natanson, a federal biologist who has sampled animals at the Oak Bluffs event. “By opportunistically obtaining samples from shark tournaments, commercial and recreational fishermen, and strandings, scientists are able to [try to obtain] an accurate description of a species.”
While acknowledging the scientific benefits that can accrue from tournaments, Dr. Robert Hueter of the Mote Marine Laboratory in Florida nevertheless believes that the pressures on sharks are too great for tournaments to continue. “I’m not saying that we aren’t gaining useful data from this sort of sampling,” he says. “But scientists have been taking these sorts of samples at tournaments for nearly 50 years. It’s questionable that the research benefits gained at this point justify the cost to shark conservation.”
The opposite view is expressed by Dr. George Benz of Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro: “As a scientist, I can say that shark sport-fishing tournaments continue to facilitate a good bit of robust science, and we can’t learn everything we need to learn about sharks by studying live animals.”
Catch and release tournaments have been suggested as alternatives to kill events, despite the contention that the animals often die after they’re released.
The Are You Man Enough? Shark Challenge in Fort Myers Beach, Fla., revised its rules so that competitors weren’t required to bring a shark to the dock; they could release it at sea. Tournament director Jack Donlon says that he plans to expand the format next year.
He hopes that this change, plus educating spectators and participants about sharks, will ease the controversy surrounding shark tournaments.
But protestors have vowed that as long as sharks are still being killed, they will continue to apply pressure to end these events.
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