New Florida Shark Fishery Rules

The FWC public meeting where Brooks, Clay Newton, Zach Miller, Chris Nicklin and I represented last Thursday in Clewiston was well attended by the general public and other spokespersons for numerous shark, marine and general conservation interests.

That list includes: The Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation, The Ocean Conservancy, Oceanic Defense, The Institute for Ocean Conservation Science, The Bimini Biological Field Station, The Int'l Land-Based Shark Fishing Assoc., The Guy Harvey Ultimate Shark Challenge, Shark Savers, The Shark Foundation, The Underwater Journal, Shark Safe Network, The Shark Foundation, The South Florida Student Shark Program and The Sierra Club. Noticeably absent, were any voices from the commercial fishing industry.

L-R: Brooks Paxton II, James Harvey from the Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation, Sean Paxton

This Commission meeting was comprehensive on a vast number of issues that ranged from boat speeds in manatee and wake zones to falconry rules and mesh sizes for cast nets. Hats off to the FWC for the effort they put forth, given the sheer scope of issues, regulations, law, policy and enforcement they deal with and are charged to administer on a daily basis. There's no way to get it right or perfect every time, but they do a hell of a job trying to make sense of it all.

Shark-wise, on the consistency issue (between the staties and feds), among other items approved, was the prohibition of harvest, landing, and sale of silky, sandbar, and Caribbean sharpnoses. Consistency, to me, can be a dicey proposition worthy of careful consideration. It's tough to tell sometimes which tail is wagging what dog and for who's agenda. At the same time, it makes enforcement of the right measures (depending on who you talk to) more ... enforecable.

Further comments from us and others echoed what we urged in September -- including protective measures for greater hammers and tigers, and the consideration of circle hook requirements for non-harvesting anglers.

With the state moving on the current lemon issue, Aaron Podey (Fisheries Management Analyst) said those other large coastal species are under serious consideration for similar measures in 2010 so the lemons may actually end up playing the role of precedent-setter for other large coastal species.

On that subject, the FWC approved a draft rule banning the harvest of lemons in state waters with a final public hearing to take place in February of 2010. The FWC refers to anyone choosing to attend and / or participate in the decision and policy-making process as 'a stakeholder'.

By the time the agenda winded down to the lemon issue, the commission halted further comment after only two 'stakeholders' provided appealing testimony at the podium, hinting that they had a 'feeling' this was going to pass. Believe it or not, I had one of my shortest installments on record prepared for my time at the podium, but instead, they took a quick roll call of those registered to speak resulting in a unanimous 'yes' in support of the ban.

For the record, here's what I was planning to say ...

'As a life-long recreational angler and advocate for the profitable sustainability of natural resources, and a proponent of catch & release shark fishing, especially with regard to certain species, I support the ban on lemon shark harvests for primarily two reasons.

1) Unlike rabbits, and their aquatic equivalents, these animals are not prolific breeders. As a result, I can see a trend that's already in motion, resulting in long-term damage to lemon populations that rely heavily on critical state waters as part of their natural, procreating life cycle.

2) Due to the lemon's now well known migratory and aggregating habits off Florida's east coast, they very realistically could end up as virtual sitting ducks for certain commercial and recreational interests -- if they were left completely unchecked in their harvest activities.

In the end, I feel we need to think in terms of the long dime and not the short nickel on this important issue. I was particularly pleased to see the merits of a live shark's monetary value over the course of its life, as opposed to a one-off meat haul espoused in the FWC's draft proposal on this important 'profitability' issue'.

Eco-Tourism, the Adventure Travel and Outdoor Industries are mostly untapped BILLION-dollar industries, when it comes to this resource. The right planning, effort and promotion could tap some of those dollars. I smell a classic win-win if that caper could be effectively pulled off.

We've had a lot of calls since Thursday with people asking us questions about what went down and our opinions on the matter. It's been a non-stop blur of days with other shark-related activity since then so I appreciate your patience. All-in-all, it was a solid show of level-headed concern and input by a sizeable contingent of stakeholders.

Most notable to Brooks and me was the cooperative and largely cohesive sense of camaraderie displayed between the different groups and individuals from the angling, dive, research and conservation communities. A lot of them are pictured above. Well played everyone. This day was proof positive that, despite our sometimes passionate differences, we can tread certain common grounds when something important needs doing. It was good to see a few of you again and a pleasure to meet some of you in person for the first time.

Happy Holidaze to You and Yours ...

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