Shark Management in Florida

This year, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission (FWC) held a series of public workshops to allow public input and suggestions for proposed shark management rules affecting commercial and recreational shark fisheries.

Along with my brother, Brooks, I also made the meeting in Punta Gorda in September that was attended by a skeleton crew of interested parties, but it was a notable gathering, nonetheless, that included Robert E. Hueter and Jose Castro of Mote Marine Laboratory and Captain Ralph Allen of the Kingfisher Fleet.

We'll be attending the final installment in Clewiston, Florida today where the FWC commissioners will drop their gavel on a variety of issues regarding consistency between state and federal rules, policy and law as outlined below.

There is also a proposed draft rule on the agenda regarding a ban on lemon shark harvests for both recreational and commercial fisheries in state waters. Despite other efforts mentioned to reach consistency with the other matters on the agenda, Florida and the FWC are taking a notable proactive stance on this issue. This background report summarizes their reasoning.

If you have a position or are interested in forming one, of any kind, these are not the kind of issues you can just peruse and come to a quick conclusion. They demand a good look under the hood. When you throw in the different state and federal regulating bodies, research organizations, commercial fishing lobbies, recreational interests and conservation groups, it becomes a steamy, heaping bowl of acronym soup.

The important issues being determined today address consistency between federal fisheries management bodies and their state counterparts. One thing's for sure, it's not the type of policy-making that gets every head shaking in the same direction, but it's important stuff that we're always happy to see people caring about -- whether or not they agree with each other.

The consistency issues aren't perfect, but they are improved from what we heard proposed in September. We'd still like to see more pivotal species added to the protected list, including greater hammerheads and tigers, but maybe that's for another time and another state sponsored proposal.

As for the proposed ban on lemon harvests, we will support it. I'm not a commercial fisherman, but count some among my close friends, and realize these issues might affect more than the number of presents under the Christmas tree in coming years -- if the ban passes.

On this one, we're electing to think in terms of the long dime, as opposed to the short nickel. If these animals procreated like rabbits, this would be a non-issue, but they don't and so it isn't.

With the common knowledge (to recreational and commercial interests) regarding lemon shark behavior, that we've gained from the sometimes double-edged sword of science, large aggregating populations off Florida's east coast would be like lazy flocks of sitting ducks if commercial fleets and some recreational anglers were left to their own devices.

Time to hit the road and make the drive to Clewiston. We'll let you know how the meeting turned out.

In the meantime, here's some additional detail:

Shark Consistency-In 2008, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) completed their Interstate Fishery Management Plan (IFMP) for Atlantic Coastal Sharks.

As a member state of the ASMFC Florida is required to adopt the specific management measures in the IFMP or adopt measures of similar conservation value. Certain sections of Rule 68B-44 F.A.C. would be amended to become compliant with the ASMFC IFMP. Additional changes are proposed to update references to federal code and to clarify and standardize rule language. (Background Report 11/18/09) (Background Report 11/18/09) 1. 668B-44.002, Definitions-The proposed rule would modify the definition of finning to allow fins to be cut but not completely detached, it would add a definition of fork length, and it would remove the definition of spearing. Additionally, the proposed rule would remove the prohibited species from the list of allowable shark species. The proposed rule would modify the definition "harvest for commercial purposes" to become consistent with the definitions located elsewhere in Chapter 68B.

68B-44.003, Bag Limit Applicable to State Waters, Gear Restriction-The proposed rule would list hook and line gear as the only allowable gear for the harvest of shark and would prohibit snagging and the use of multiple hooks in conjunction with natural bait. Additionally, the proposed rule would remove the unnecessary language prohibiting spearing.

68B-44.004, Practice of Finning Prohibited; Removal of Fins from Sharks Harvested in State Waters Prohibited; Compliance with Federal Requirements; Filleting Prohibited-The proposed rule would amend the landing requirements for sharks to prohibit the removal of heads at sea and would update and amend language allowing the transit of legally harvested sharks from federal waters through state waters.

68B-44.005, Commercial Harvest of Sharks: Federal Permit Required-The proposed rule would add language requiring commercial shark harvesters to sell only to federally permitted shark wholesale dealers and add language requiring wholesale dealers to only purchase sharks from federally licensed harvesters. The proposed rule would also update the reference to the federal code regarding the commercial permits.

68B-44.006, Commercial Season; Season Closure; Prohibition of Sale-The proposed rule would change the current commercial shark season from July 1 through June 30 each year to January 1 through December 31. This would align the state season with the federal and ASMFC's seasons. The proposed rule would also add language stating that when the ASMFC declares a closure is needed for the commercial shark fishery in state waters of the Atlantic Ocean, then Florida state waters of the Atlantic would be closed. The proposed rule would also clarify language to reflect the closing of pelagic sharks in state waters when they are closed in adjacent federal waters.

68B-44.007, Size Limit-The proposed rule would create a new rule section that would require all sharks to be 54 inches or greater (fork length), except for Atlantic sharpnose, blacknose, blacktip, bonnethead, finetooth, and smooth dogfish.

68B-44.008, Prohibited Species; Prohibition of Harvest, Landing, and Sale-The proposed rule would prohibit the harvest of the silky shark, sandbar shark, and the Caribbean sharpnose shark. The proposed rule would also re-organize the section by alphabetizing and numbering the list of prohibited species to align the section with other sections of the rule and chapter.