For many surf fishermen in Florida, there’s nothing more exciting than catching a big shark. For some residents of coastal cities, there’s nothing scarier. That’s why some politicians want to ban shark fishing by surf anglers.
The city commission of Delray Beach is voting in early June on a proposal that would ban shark fishing within 300 feet of the city’s public beach. According to Mayor Cary Glickstein, the ban would protect swimmers from sharks that he said would typically not come close to shore.
“It’s a public safety issue and also concern for the sharks,” Glickstein said. “A lot of species are endangered. There’s been a lot of press lately about very large sharks being caught from shore.”
Those catches include a 14-foot tiger shark and an 11-foot hammerhead shark.
According to fishermen and scientists, Glickstein doesn’t realize that sharks are plentiful off South Florida beaches and they don’t pose any threat to swimmers.
“We see big sharks swimming close to the beach all the time,” said local surf fisherman Adam Fisk. “We’re not attracting them to the beach. They’re there. When we do it, the people aren’t swimming. We do it at night.”
And as a shark expert at a local university told me, if people knew how many sharks were around, no one would go swimming. He also said that if sharks were the man-eating monsters that some people think they are, swimmers would be getting killed by sharks every day.
The majority of shark fishermen fish at night. Many paddle out in kayaks to drop hunks of bait several hundred yards offshore, then go back to the beach and wait for a bite. Several of those fishermen brag about their catches by posting videos and photos on a variety of websites. Seeing a 300- to 500-pound shark being caught and released off a local beach instills a Jaws-like fear in public officials like Glickstein.
Delray Beach banned shark fishing by surf anglers in 2009, but the ban was successfully challenged because Florida law reserves the authority to regulate saltwater fishing to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission. Now the city commission is taking a different approach to banning shark fishing by making it a public safety issue on city-owned land, which would allow the city to restrict saltwater fishing. Shark fishing still would be allowed on other beaches in the city.
The strongest argument against surf fishing for sharks comes from other anglers, who say that dragging a big shark onto the beach for videos and photos ends up killing the shark after it is released. Surf fishermen could do themselves and the sharks they catch a favor by forgoing the “hero” shots and just releasing sharks without pulling them onto the beach. That way non-anglers won’t even know that sharks are being caught, and the sharks that are caught will have a much better chance of survival.