Shark fishing off the beach? The expert calls for caution

In March, a juvenile great white shark was caught by Orange Beach inshore fishermen, believed to be the first of its kind caught off an Alabama beach, generating much attention for land-based shark fishing.

Last weekend, a video posted on Facebook showing a shark being caught and washed up on a Panama City beach caused a stir, including hundreds of comments ranging from amazement to concern for the welfare of the sharks.

Others have questioned the wisdom of fishing off a public beach where swimmers are present.

Dr. Sean Powers says shark fishing off the beach is fine and not likely to bring more sharks close to shore.

I’m not sure it would bring in more sharks than there already are, said Powers, president and director of the University of South Alabamas School of Marine and & Environmental Sciences.

It might concentrate them in a smaller area, but if you’re catching black tips and others, they’re already around.

But, Powers said, there are dangers, especially for fishermen.

There are some things people get into trouble with, she said.

A lot of the shark bites, what we call test bites, the sharks aren’t trying to eat people, they’re just trying to eat. So many sharks, if they don’t see something, will try to bite. The problem starts with anglers wading in and using the chum close to shore. Yes, this attracts sharks, but it also makes them bite indiscriminately, trying everything.

Humans don’t taste good for a shark. They expect rich, fatty fish.

Alabama has a 15-year ban on near-shore chumming, but there are still reports of it happening, according to the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

Scott Bannon of the Marine Resources Division told in March that it’s usually just about educating anglers about the regulations.

Once we educate a fisherman (who shouldn’t frequent a shoreline), that’s not a problem, Bannon said. People are very understanding.

Other problems can arise once a shark is caught and washed up on the beach, mainly in the form of people wanting shark photos.

They like to sit on their backs, grab their snouts and try to expose their jaw, Power said. It’s a really bad idea. It’s a good way to get bitten. And if the kids start coming around to do it or to see the shark, there’s a good chance they’ll get bitten.

It’s better — and safer — if the shark isn’t washed ashore in the first place, Powers said.

It is best if the shark is taken to shallow water, where there is enough water to flow over the gills.

Don’t manipulate the shark or do something stupid. This is a recipe for losing a finger.

When done safely and in compliance with state and federal regulations, inshore shark fishing poses little threat to humans and has no negative impact on ecosystems.

We do a lot of research to make sure that if you fish according to regulations, there’s no damage to the ecosystem, Powers said.

People should have faith in the science and fishery managers that if within the regulations, shark fishing is fine.

Powers noted that the popularity of inshore shark fishing has exploded in Texas and appears to be growing in Florida as well.

He also noted that special approval on your state fishing license is required to fish for sharks off Florida.

There’s no cost for the approval, he said, it’s simply to allow officials to track the numbers. There is currently no such requirement in Alabama.

He also added another safety tip for shark anglers.

If people have trouble getting the hook out of the shark’s mouth, just cut the line, Powers said. Don’t get your hand too close to the shark’s mouth. Those hooks will disintegrate in a few weeks.

Even though anglers use a stainless steel hook, which is prohibited by Alabama law, the shark will adapt to having the hook there more easily than you adjust to not having a hand.

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