Shark Law: Why Our Apex Predators Deserve Legal Protection

Authored by: Teresa Detloff

On July 9, 2022, a controversial shark fishing tournament was held in Florida despite outcry from activists and conservationists citing the danger in removing apex predators from our oceans.

The tournament purportedly followed the regulations set by the Florida Fishing and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC).

Interestingly, not much information can be found about the tournament itself. According to local newspaper articles, the tournament was broadcast as a “catch and release” tournament. Some have suggested that the tournament was really a shark cull to reduce the number of sharks competing for limited fish in the area, as opposed to an event purporting to have scientific value.[1] A total of 11 bull sharks, a near endangered species, were harvested and killed as a result of the tournament.

Shockingly, this was all legal.

The FWC has set regulations on shark fishing that limit the number of sharks that can be harvested and places restrictions on the sizes of sharks that can be harvested. Specifically, one shark per person per day can be harvested, and no more than two sharks per day per vessel[2]. The FWC also sets forth rules regarding how sharks can be caught and prohibits removing the head, tail, or fins before landing.[3]

Sharks are vital to ocean health and should be protected by our laws and regulations. Shark populations worldwide have been decimated by the ultimate apex predator, humans. Healthy oceans are critical to maintaining a healthy planet. We need stronger protections for our sharks, for the following reasons:

Catch and release is dangerous and deadly if not performed by trained professionals.

Scientists routinely catch sharks in a specialized manner and operate under special protocols to measure, record, and tag sharks for scientific purposes. The process of tagging a shark is highly specialized and done in a safe and efficient manner to minimize the time a shark is out of the water. When not performed by professionals, the consequences can be deadly. Even if a shark swims away from a boat after being caught, many times, the shark will die later due to lactic acid build up from struggling to escape the fishing line and the stress experienced from being taken out of the water, unable to breathe.[4] Some species, like hammerhead sharks, are particularly vulnerable to death by stress from being fished. If the shark manages to escape the line before being taken up onto the boat, it will likely have a metal hook stuck in its mouth, which is painful and can impact the animal’s ability to hunt and survive. Therefore, even catching and releasing sharks by untrained professionals is harmful to the ecosystem.

Sharks have little value to humans when they are no longer alive.

Fishing sharks for sport alone in the US does not produce any great benefit to the economy because the shark itself is relatively unusable for any other purpose. Shark meat has incredibly high concentrations of mercury that are widely considered unsafe for human consumption.[5] Squalene, an oil that comes from shark liver, is often used in cosmetic products, but can also be harvested from plants.[6] Selling shark fins is illegal. Consequently, fishing for sharks really does not provide any significant benefit. Ecotourism (where boats take divers and non-divers out to see sharks in their natural habitat), however, has been immensely profitable in many areas of the world, including the US.

Shark culls are ineffective and harmful.

Shark culling is a policy put in place by governments that incentivizes the capture and killing of sharks in specific areas.[7] Many times, these laws and policies are put into place after there has been an adverse interaction between a shark and a human. Shark culls are ineffective at removing specific animals because sharks are migratory and do not remain in the same area year-round.[8] Nets and drum lines, equipment used to capture as many sharks as possible, also trap anything that happens to cross its path, including dolphins and turtles. Scientific research simply does not support that shark culling works. It is a misguided policy that is detrimental to the environment.

The current regulations limiting the number of sharks fished do not provide sufficient protections for our apex predators, which are required to maintain healthy oceans and therefore, a healthy planet. Limitations on what types of sharks can be fished are insufficient because a fisherman can never anticipate what will be on their line until the animal is out of the water. At that time, the damage has potentially already been done. Further, these regulations do not prohibit what occurred in early July, which is a congregation of many boats fishing for sharks in a targeted area. While it is technically legal, removing sharks from the ecosystem, even in small numbers, is detrimental given that many sharks are endangered or near threatened, and reproduce at a slow rate compared to other ocean creatures. New laws and policies should consider the need to protect our sharks.



[3] Id.






About the Author:

Teresa Detloff

Teresa Dettloff practices law in Chicago, Illinois and is a graduate of Loyola University Chicago School of Law, where she served as a lead article editor for the law journal. She is also a member of the United Nations Association Chicago Chapter.

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