Florida Plans to Increase Protection of 'Stressed' Sharks
TALLAHASSEE, Florida, September 10, 2009 (ENS) - The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission today proposed rules to extend its policy of protecting "stressed shark populations in Florida waters."

Shark fishing has been regulated in Florida since 1992 with a one-fish-per-person/two-fish-per-vessel daily bag limit for all recreational and commercial harvesters, and a prohibition on nearly two dozen overfished or rare shark species, as well as a ban on what the commisson calls "the cruel and wasteful practice of harvesting only shark fins – called finning."

The commission is proposing to expand these rules to more species and add gear restrictions to further protect sharks in Florida waters and comply with recent management measures that have been implemented for sharks in coastal waters from Florida to Maine.

"Florida has controlled the harvest of sharks for nearly 20 years and is recognized as a pioneer and a leader in shark-management efforts,” said FWC Chairman Rodney Barreto.

"We are now proposing to add further protections to sharks to help ensure the sustainability of our marine ecosystem that relies, in part, on maintaining healthy shark populations,” he said.

Sandbar shark in Florida waters (Photo by Locotusswife)

The proposed rules would prohibit harvest of sandbar, silky and Caribbean sharpnose sharks from state waters. Sandbar sharks are considered overfished and are experiencing overfishing, which means that fishing pressure is too high to be sustainable.

Silky sharks are highly vulnerable to overexploitation, but Caribbean sharpnose sharks do not occur in waters off Florida, so adding this species will have no effect on harvesters in state waters.

The proposed rules would also establish a 54-inch fork length minimum size limit for all sharks except Atlantic sharpnose, blacknose, bonnethead, finetooth and blacktip sharks and smooth dogfish. This would help 14 species of sharks reach maturity before they are taken in Florida waters.

"The species for which no size limit is required are considered to be at healthy population levels or don’t warrant a minimum-size limit," the commission said today.

In addition, the proposed rules would prohibit the removal of shark heads and tails at sea, allow only hook-and-line gear to harvest sharks, and make other technical shark rule changes.

The commission also directed staff to work with stakeholders and develop options to possibly add other shark species to the prohibited list, especially lemon sharks, and to require the use of circle hooks to harvest sharks in state waters.

Sharks in Florida waters are threatened by commercial fishing, fueled by the Asian demand for shark fin soup. But recreational fishing kills some of the largest sharks as competitions give prizes for the biggest bull, hammerhead or tiger sharks, and individuals seek record catches.

They take some enormous sharks, according to records kept by the Miami-based South Florida Shark Club. In May 2006, a hammerhead shark weighing 1280 pounds, more than half a ton, was caught off Boca Grande, Floria.

The next largest shark catch in Florida listed by the club happened in 1981 when a tiger shark tipping the scale at 1,065 pounds was taken off Pensacola.

In April 2007, a 1,063 pound mako shark was caught from the dock of the Destin Harbor in Destin, Florida, according to the "Florida Sun-Sentinel" newspaper.

While the commission can control shark fishing in state waters, Florida municipalities are also taking action. In July, the City of Delray Beach banned shark fishing from their municipal beach after residents complained that their safety was threatened by fishermen taking sharks from land.

Shark fishermen from the South Florida Shark Club and the International Land-Based Shark Fishing Association say they view this as a precedent that could prompt other beachside communities to pass similar laws.

Shark conservationists defended the Delray Beach ban based on declining shark populations and said that shark fishing is similar to poaching elephants for their tusks.

A final public hearing on the proposed statewide shark rules will be held during the December Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission meeting.

Copyright Environment News Service, ENS, 2009. All rights reserved.