Friday, July 17, 2009

Shark-Free Beaches?

Back to the controversy.

I got quite a bit of flak for having posted my take on the land-based Shark fishing in Delray Beach.
The organizers of the anti-fishing movement are excellent and passionate people who love Sharks with a vengeance, and the post was seen as a stupid and unnecessary contribution that would ultimately weaken their case. If so, I hope they'll accept my sincere apologies.

Of course, it wasn't meant that way.
Where I'm coming from is that I believe that Conservation must be pragmatic, smart, whenever possible consensual and fact-based. The Shark-Free Marinas Initiative is an excellent example of how that can be achieved.

Surely, nobody is seriously contemplating to ban all land-based fishing (for Sharks and "regular" Fishes) in Florida.
Anglers are a passionate and powerful group and their hobby is just another -albeit for some disturbing- way of enjoying the outdoors. From a Conservation point of view, they are certainly entitled to pursue it as long as they don't kill endangered species.

Here's an example from Australia.

Once again, the way to go is to sit at one table and agree on a compromise, whereby the anglers are allowed to fish provided that they do so sustainably.
In the case of game fishing for Sharks, all of which are endangered to some degree, that really boils down to practicing catch and release, very much in line with what the IGFA is already doing with Billfish. I understand that some anglers do kill the Sharks and eat the contaminated meat - but from what I can discern, many don't, so it should not be mission impossible to convince the recalcitrant rest.

Incidentally, Sean Paxton & Brooks Paxton II are already working on certifying released Sharks as part of the Int'l Land-Based Shark Fishing Association. Not perfect by any stretch of the imagination, as they will also certify dead Sharks and also, because some of the Sharks on their list should be fully protected - but certainly a step in the right direction.
Also, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission is presently reviewing its Shark management rules and it very much looks like they are willing to take aboard the above reservations, along with measures aimed at protecting juveniles, pregnant females and banning Shark kill tournaments.

But what about the argument that land-based fishing is endangering the other aquatic recreationists by drawing in Sharks?

I've actually been totally sold on that one for quite a while - but maybe contrary to the proponents of a ban on Shark fishing, I intuitively believe that the worst perpetrators may well be the "regular" fishermen that use chum and then drag in struggling fish that send out distress signals which are irresistible to Sharks. Incidentally, that's what the Shark fishermen claim, too!
On top of that, many anglers will then clean their catch right on the shore and thus create a further Shark attractant. I've personally witnessed it in French Polynesia and the next blog post will mention a glaring example from Hawaii. And there's the famous case of Walker's Cay where the regular dumping of carcasses by a game fishing operation established a resident population of Bull Sharks.

If the above is true, the only solution would be to establish mutually exclusive zones: no fishing where people swim and no swimming where people fish.
Yes Delray Beach may resolve to chase away the anglers (but it should really be all of them, not only those who target Sharks) citing that the area is just to small to support both activities - but in the big scheme of things, anglers certainly deserve their own space where the other users agree to take a step back.

Bottom line: talk to each other!
It's really always the same: the best and most enduring Conservation is the result of negotiations - and yes, sometimes the parties will only agree to talk after having been shown the "stick", like in Ft. Myers. The result of those talks will likely be a compromise, meaning that some Sharks will be killed - but in exchange, we could have a say about what species, how many, where, when and how and be reasonably confident that the anglers will abide by those rules. And maybe export the concept to other states where land-based Shark fishing is equally popular.
To me, that would be quite an achievement!

Anyway, as I said, just a thought.

PS: I just found this poll on the Orlando Sentinel website - please cast your vote.


Jeff Corbin said...

The Delray Beach issue is one of overzealous shark folks submitting images and quotes that are not factual to gov officials.

The result has been a big stink in the area.

If the shark conservation people want to gain respect, and credibility, they will have to get facts straight, and deal honestly with locals. That is not do what they did here.

It will all come out in the wash but at least one person will end up with egg on her face as will the so called conservation org she works for.

Saving sharks is a good a noble thing.

Lying about the facts surrounding regional shark fishing to elicit a response from a mayors office hurts everyone and is a complete waste of time.

DaShark said...

From what I can perceive (and granted, you seem to be much closer to the "action") there are several issues at stake here.

1. Law and Order - apparently, some of the anglers displayed behavior unbecoming of a residential zone. If so, that's a police matter.

2. Shark Conservation - where I've posted my standpoint.

3. Public Safety - some people are scared that fishing from the beach may attract Sharks and pose a danger to swimmers.
Whether founded in fact or not, those are legitimate concerns that need to be addressed - and just telling them to shut up as they got no clue and are a bunch of liars is probably not gonna cut it.

To me, the irony is this.

In Hawaii, there's a populist movement claiming that baiting for Sharks 3 miles offshore will lead to more attacks on the beaches - much like the argumentation that has led to the fish feeding ban in Florida that was supported by many fishermen.

Now, the anglers are trying to make the point that baiting for Sharks and "regular" Fishes DIRECTLY ON THE BEACH ITSELF is perfectly safe.

Looks like the chicken have come home to roost, huh.

Let's hope that this time, the confrontation can evolve into solution-oriented dialogue.