Dead Sharks Distort Reality

The following commentary was written by Doug Olander, Editor-in-Chief of Sport Fishing magazine. The article appeared as Doug’s editorial column in SF’s April 2012 issue. 

Let me cut to the chase:

1. If I never see another billfish or shark hanging dead for bragging rights and glory photos, it will be too soon.

2. I absolutely, unequivocally see nothing wrong with keeping a shark to eat — preferably a shark of modest size, taken aboard a boat to be shared among anglers and crew.

Too many anglers want to jump to the conclusion that a statement like No. 1 must come from a PC fish hugger who thinks no angler should ever keep any fish. Far from it.

But that sort of thinking seems to be the basis of comments left by an angry fisherman both on SF’s Facebook Page and web site after reading a Quick Bites news item in February on the Shark Free Marina Initiative.

The reader is upset that the item cites as good news four species of sharks added to Florida’s prohibited-species list. Then he asks, “Why do you feel that the prevention of offloading a legally caught species is a good thing?”

I would ask a different question: Why does anyone need to kill sharks such as hammerheads and tigers, whether legal or not? They’re not food fish, so what’s the point of killing them?

Beyond that, even if killing a big shark for the glory of a snapshot in your smartphone is legal, does that make it right?

news item about Rosie O’Donnell, shark slayer, resurfaced recently, proudly posted on the website of her skipper. Based in Miami Beach, he’s made a reputation for killing sharks (and as long as he could get away with it, anything else including sailfish). Included was a photo of a dead hammerhead (killed long before it was illegal to do so), swinging from a crane as Rosie and her small children smiled for the cameras.

I think hanging up dead sharks in a marina is wrong, but more important, I think doing so is just plain stupid. It’s a point I’ve made before and sadly, probably will have to again: Anglers and captains like Rosie’s do nothing but damage the image of our sport, and hurt you, me and all real sport fishermen. A nonfishing public, seeing dead sharks gathering flies at a dock, more easily accepts a distorted reality where sport fishermen are pigs with no respect for the resource.

And this comes at the very time more and more green groups would be happy to see all recreational fishing banned. Do we need to help their cause? If the purpose of those who agree with Rosie and her skipper is to put further restrictions on our sport, they’re doing a bang-up job.

That doesn’t mean I think no shark should ever be killed (see No. 2 above). A smaller mako or common thresher, neither of which is considered overfished, can be shared by anglers and crew for meals (with no need to leave ’em hanging dead at the dock). A blacktip can offer inshore anglers some fair filets. I’ve even sampled the common bonnethead and found it pretty tasty.

And yes, even across the board, the recreational take of sharks has to be a small fraction of those killed commercially. But the public seldom sees that carnage, versus one shark left to hang at the sport docks. No wonder many of the powerful environmental groups clamoring to close off the ocean no longer try to make any distinction between commercial and sport fishing.

It’s because of skippers like Rosie’s that I join Guy Harvey in supporting the Shark Free Marinas Initiative — to avoid just such repulsive photo-op scenes.

The fact that the Humane Society and Pew support the initiative doesn’t automatically make it bad for recreational fishing. That said, I’ve come to the point where it makes me uncomfortable to be on the same side of any issue with Pew.

But in this case, the mind-set and actions of Rosie and her captain just don’t leave me much choice.

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