As a science-based NGO that researches recreational shark fishing we have been aware of the shark fishing tournament scheduled for July 9th in Florida for some months and have been in contact with regulatory agencies to learn more about the rules and regulations so we can make sure to share the most accurate information.
Firstly, this tournament is legal. It has been registered with NOAA’s Highly Migratory Species Division, which is required. It is a catch-and-kill tournament (as opposed to a catch and release) where prizes are awarded for sharks provided at specific weigh-in locations. Organizers must also submit an HMS tournament catch summary report within seven days after the tournament ends. And yes, both NOAA and FWC officials are well aware of this tournament. All participating anglers are required to follow all state and federal rules for recreational fishing for shark species depending on where they are fishing (see below for more and stay tuned as we continue to share more details).
There are very specific rules and restrictions for recreationally fishing for sharks in both state and federal waters and it can get a little complicated.
There are areas where fishing is not allowed at all, there are species you can catch and keep in federal waters that you can’t in state waters, there are permit and gear requirements, minimum size limits for some species, and a total number of sharks that can be kept (1 per vessel for federal and 1 per person/2 max in state water). There are also reporting requirements for tournaments. All of these regulations are supposed to be followed and if not, the appropriate agencies will have grounds to investigate.
The risk to sharks - Data that we have collected over the last 6 years shows the spatial and temporal overlap of bull sharks (a specific target species of this tournament) and sandbar sharks (a prohibited species), especially in summer. We urge anglers to be cautious when identifying their caught sharks and use the provided resources to identify the key differences between the species very carefully.
And a discussion surrounding this tournament’s motive to “thin the herd”. There is a belief that anglers are losing more of their fish to sharks these days and therefore there are 'too many sharks' in Atlantic waters. This belief is simply not supported by the data or scientific evidence. Some studies have shown that some species may be rebounding but that doesn’t mean that they are “overpopulating” the area. As we participate in stock assessments combined with the multiple studies currently underway to determine the levels and trends of depredation from sharks, we will learn more about the issue.
Our organization works closely with recreational shark anglers and wildlife management agencies to collect the best possible data for a sustainable fishery. We are strong advocates for responsible and respectful angling. We will continue to advocate for evidence-based policies.