Seven vital reasons why shark tournaments are changing to "100% Catch and Release" format
It is not necessary to have weigh-ins and display shark catches on the dock for a shark fishing tournament to be economically successful. There are a number of successful ‘catch and release’ Shark Tournaments, including ESPN’s top rated award winning Quiznos Madfin Series in the Florida Keys (http://quiznosmadfin.com/about.asp). Frank Mundus, the “Monster Man of Montauk”, before he passed away, hosted an all catch and release shark tournament in Costa Rica for the benefit of shark conservation and research.“This is the way of the future” according to Jack Donlon, organizer of the ‘Are You Man Enough Shark Challenge’ that also recently changed to a ‘catch and release’ format. Catch and release has become the accepted and respected norm for most Billfish Tournaments while continuing to generate considerable revenue for the hosting organizations and the local economy.
Most of the popular big game sharks are included on the internationally respected IUCN Red List of Threatened Species because of alarming and continuing population declines. Great and Scalloped Hammerhead sharks are both classified as Endangered - Very High Risk of Extinction. (http://cmsdata.iucn.org/downloads/ssg_pelagic_report_final.pdf) Mako and Thresher sharks are both classified as Vulnerable – High Risk of Extinction. And, Tiger and Bull shark numbers are believed to have fallen by 97 - 99% off the US east coast since the mid 1980’s (Ransom A. Myers et al. 2007 Cascading Effects of the Loss of Apex Predatory Sharks from a Coastal Ocean - http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/03/070329145922.htm).
Recreational shark fishing, in aggregate, has a significant population impact in that small numbers add up quickly; recreational fishing in the state of Florida alone, harvested over 140,000 sharks in 2007.
Removing sharks, or any apex predator, can have serious impacts on the environment. Sharks are necessary components of functioning, healthy ocean ecosystems. As top predators they perform the vital role of regulating species abundance, distribution and diversity. When shark populations decline, fisheries and habitats can also decline or collapse – causing potential, local ecological and economic losses (J.K. Baum & B. Worm, ‘Cascading top-down effects of changing oceanic predator abundances. Journal of Animal Ecology 2009).
Large sharks are long-lived and reproduce slowly. Therefore, their population structures can’t support intensive fishing pressure like bony fishes that can spawn millions of eggs and have very short life spans. Additionally, shark tournaments target the largest sharks, which are predominantly reproductive females, often pregnant. These individuals are essential in maintaining healthy populations.
When tournaments display dead sharks and award cash prizes and incur publicity for bringing in large sharks, there is a missed opportunity to promote fishing as a fun, family activity that is environmentally sound and community conscious; instead, the message to the community is simple and incorrect, that it is good to kill sharks.
The Florida Department of Health’s 2008 report titled “Your Guide to Eating Fish Caught in Florida Waters” was compiled based on tests of [mercury levels in] fish from various…water bodies in Florida and states that “this information should be used by everyone to determine the type and amount of fish to eat or avoid.” The report recommends that sharks over 43 inches in length should not be consumed in order “to lower the risk of harm from mercury.” Additionally, the EPA’s Fish Advisories recommends that pregnant women and young children “not eat Shark…because they contain high levels of mercury.” (http://www.doh.state.fl.us/environment/medicine/fishconsumptionadvisories/fish_eating_guide_eng.pdf p. 21; http://www.epa.gov/fishadvisories/advice/).
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Dumpster full of Blue Sharks after fishing tournament - Long Island, NY
A full dumpster of blue sharks can be seen here from the Montauk New York tournament.
What are shark fishing tournaments?
Many coastal cities participate in sportfishing tournaments. Of these cities a select few opt for a more spectacular tournament by catching and killing large sharks. What's the problem with killing a few sharks? Why should we care? Continue to read on and you will soon realize that it is not just the act of catching and displaying a single dead shark it is the message we are sending in doing so.
Complete Ban on Shark Fishing?
Although we would like to see a complete ban on shark fishing tournaments effective immediately we realize that coastal communities generate a good portion of their income from such tournaments. What we are suggesting is a ban on the killing of any shark during these tournaments. Some responsible tournament organizers have already taken steps to implement new 100% catch and release rules. Communities need to work together with organizers to promote the ecology of sharks and their importance to not only their cities but to the health of the aquatic ecosystems that these sharks dominate.
Rotting carcus of a tiger shark - jaws removed - Galveston Texas May 2009
What can I do as an individual?
Educate yourself on the plight of sharks:
DO NOT attend or participate in shark fishing tournaments unless they are 100% catch and release
DO NOT shop where shark products are sold
Make an effort to educate yourself on the plight of sharks and learn why they are so important to a healthy ecosystem.
Do tell your friends, family and co-workers about your views on shark conservation