A few years ago coastal anglers got a bit of a scare when the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) suggested that they were considering some very restrictive recreational fishing regulations. Tasked with the responsibility of providing additional conservation to dwindling dusky shark populations, NMFS proposed increasing the recreational minimum size limit for all sharks from 54 to a 96-inch fork length. Since the retention of any size dusky shark had been prohibited in both the recreational and commercial fishery for many years, there was certainly confusion among fishermen as to how the proposed size limit could help dusky sharks at all. NMFS explained that even though anglers were not allowed to keep dusky sharks, their data indicated that dusky sharks were still being harvested by anglers who were misidentifying them as other legal species, and that increasing the minimum size limits for all species would have the residual effect of saving some duskies.
That way of thinking didn’t fly very well for a lot of fishermen who easily realized that the extremely large minimum size limit would pretty diminish the odds of hooking any type of shark big enough to qualify as a “keeper”. To give you an idea; a mako with a fork length of 96-inches would weight about 350-pounds!
So it didn’t break anyone’s hearts when NMFS elected to hold off on instituting any new shark regulations until they could do another evaluation of the status of the dusky shark stocks and hopefully come up with proposed regulations that would offer proper conservation for duskies without being unrealistically intrusive on anglers fishing for other species.
Now that a couple years have passed and the stock assessment complete, the time of reckoning has arrived and just last week NMFS came out with a new set of proposed regulations to help provide additional conservation to dusky shark populations. Many of us knew this day was coming and after the big scare last time around we’ve been waiting with bated breath to see just how painful the final proposal would be.
NMFS published the following summary of their new proposals for recreational shark anglers: “Require HMS permit holders fishing for sharks recreationally to obtain a shark endorsement, which requires completion of an online shark identification and fishing regulation training course, plus additional recreational fisheries outreach. Require the use of circle hooks by all HMS permit holders fishing for or landing sharks recreationally. Any shark caught on non-circle hooks must be released. A vessel is considered to be fishing for sharks when using natural bait and wire or heavy (200 pound test or greater) monofilament or fluorocarbon leader”.
So in this case what NMFS is suggesting is that the annual HMS permit which anglers have had to renew every year will still cover billfish and tuna, but if anglers wish to also fish for sharks they will have to request a “shark endorsement” on that permit, and acquiring that will require some kind of online tutorial about shark identification. I’m told that this mini training session is not intended to make shark identification experts out of fishermen but simply give them some basic knowledge about how to identify species they are likely to encounter with an emphasis on dusky sharks. This requirement is intended to help prevent anglers from boating dusky sharks that they mistake for other species.
Circle hooks are less likely to cause post release mortality because they are most likely to hook a shark and other types of fish in the jaw rather than deep in the throat or stomach. By requiring shark fishermen to use circle hooks when they are shark fishing there is less chance that duskies and any other shark caught and released will die from the hook. Studies have shown that not only are circle hooks more likely to hook a shark in the jaw rather than deep, they have also been proven to be a more effective tool to hook and hold on to a shark from the time it takes a bait until it is brought to the boat.
The circle hook requirement is good for both the sharks and the shark fishermen, and while the new shark endorsement requirement is going to make it a little more involved for anglers to get their annual HMS permit, in the long run anglers will benefit from the increased knowledge they receive about fish they are catching. Right now these are only proposals by NMFS and must go through a public comment period before becoming a final rule. More details can be found on the NMFS Highly Migratory Species website.