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Atlantic Recreational Shark Fishing: Handling and Release of Sharks

[♪ and rushing water] ♪ Narrator: Anglers wishing to fish for or retain sharks in federal waters of the Atlantic Ocean, Gulf of Mexico, and the Caribbean must have a valid shark endorsement added to their Highly Migratory Species permit. You must also be aware that there are 21 species of sharks that cannot be kept by recreational fishermen, due to concerns about their population status or life history traits that make them vulnerable to overfishing. It’s critical that you know how to tell different species apart and release them with minimal harm. Sharks can be difficult to identify, even for experts. A good example is the dusky shark, which can be found from Massachusetts to the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean Sea. At first glance, dusky sharks look like your classic, sleek shark, and can be easily be confused with bull, blacktip, and spinner sharks, which are all legal to keep. But look closer, and you’ll see a unique feature, the interdorsal ridge, which is a visible line of raised skin between the dorsal fins. Many other prohibited sharks share this feature too, such as sandbar and silky sharks. So, if you catch a shark with an interdorsal ridge, you must release it, unless it’s a tiger, oceanic whitetip, or smoothhound shark. To be safe, you should release any sharks you are not sure you can identify correctly. The saying goes, “if you don’t know, let it go.” You must also be able to distinguish between male and female sharks. Male sharks have two external appendages called claspers located between the pelvic fins, while females do not. This is particularly important for shortfin mako sharks, for which there is a different minimum size based on the sex of the shark. Survival of released sharks is paramount. Therefore, unless you are fishing with artificial lures or flies, you are required to use non-offset, non-stainless steel circle hooks. This new circle hook requirement applies to anyone fishing for sharks in federal waters of the Atlantic, Gulf of Mexico, and Caribbean. Any shark not caught on a circle hook, artificial lure, or fly, must be released. When practicing catch and release, remember that you can increase the shark’s chances of survival if you minimize fight time; keep the shark in the water facing the current, avoid using a gaff, and instead hold the shark on the leader while moving slowly ahead; and release the shark by cutting the leader as close to the hook as safely possible, or by cutting the hook itself with bolt cutters. Experienced anglers can also use a dehooker device, which completely removes the hook. For those looking to keep sharks, go online to NOAA’s HMS website where you can find detailed information on authorized species, minimum size, and vessel bag-limit restrictions under the Compliance Guides. HMS permit holders must follow these regulations wherever they are shark fishing, including in state waters. And remember, if you don’t know, let it go.


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