Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Mako "Gaff Kill" Florida - In Depth Look

The story below first came to my attention by my wife reading something off her iPhone, but it did not really register until I saw the post below on the Underwater Thrills blog:

"What started as an email this week about a breeding aged Mako shark "caught with a gaff" off the coast of Florida may well have documented a fisheries crime.

Luke Tipple, Director of the 
Shark Free Marinas Initiative and marine biologist, went in depth today at the SFMI blog and looked at the fisheries ramifications of killing sharks with gaffs:

It’s not usually our style to let others speak for us but in this case I think a YouTube user said it the best:

"I have been big game fishing for 25 years and this is the most amateur kill i have ever seen. No wonder they have never seen anything like this before. They gaffed a green mako feeding on roadkill and were lucky they weren’t pulled in or worse, get there boat torn up after pulling him aboard. Drunken morons with no skills that are lucky that Mako didn’t tear them a new ass. What a disgrace, the fish deserved better. – YouTube user Zencaster"

While that is an interesting (and colorful opinion) I’d like to point out that the real issue here is that several fisheries laws may have been broken. First, watch the video…carefully.


Video time 1:10 (Reporters Voice): the crew wounds the shark with a gaff… 

Here is the case to be made against the fisherman’s actions which appear to have been at least initialized by an illegal fishing method, free-gaffing or using a pole with a hook to capture the animal in such a way that it led to the animals harvest.

Case 1: How they might have broken the law in State Waters

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Commission manages their State waters (shore to 3 miles out) while being coordinated by the 
Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) through an Interstate Fishery Management Plan. While the plan has undergone a series of recent revisions the current regulations clearly define that a shark may not be speared.

Current regulations define the term SPEARING as:

The catching or taking of a fish by bow hunting, gigging, spearfishing, or by any device used to capture a fish by piercing the body (gaff hooks .ed). Spearing does not include the catching or taking of a fish by a hook with hook and line gear, or by snagging (snatch hooking).

They further go on to clearly state:

Regulation #68B-44.003: Bag Limit Applicable to State Waters, Gear Restriction.
(2) The harvest or attempted harvest of any shark in or from state waters by spearing is prohibited.

Thus in State controlled waters the fishermen might have broken the law by ‘free-gaffing’ the shark, ie they did not use a permitted method of capture, therefore they broke the law. Check out the regulations for yourself here: MyFWC.com or download the PDF version here: 
Current shark regulations (Note, even though there are currently amendments being discussed to these laws they only serve to strengthen the current regulations and do not in any case permit free gaffing sharks)

However: The video clearly starts with the disclaimer that they were 18 miles offshore, is this a loophole?

Case 2: How they might have broken the law in Federal waters

Federal waters are controlled by NOAA who run the Fisheries Office of Sustainable Fisheries: Atlantic Highly Migratory Species and have published the Guide for Complying with the Atlantic Tunas, Swordfish, Sharks, and Billfish Regulations (

Within this guide is given the strict instructions (
click here for the most up to date digital version):

No person may fish for, catch, possess, or retain any Atlantic HMS (Highly Migratory Species .ed) with gears other than the primary gears specifically authorized in this part. Consistent with paragraphs (a)(1) and (a)(2) of this section, secondary gears may be used at boat side to aid and assist in subduing, or bringing on board a vessel, Atlantic HMS that have first been caught or captured using primary gears. For purposes of this part, secondary gears include, but are not limited to, dart harpoons, gaffs, flying gaffs, tail ropes, etc. Secondary gears may not be used to capture, or attempt to capture, free-swimming or undersized HMS. Except as specified in this paragraph (b), a vessel using or having onboard in the Atlantic Ocean any unauthorized gear may not possess an Atlantic HMS on board.

Let’s make sure you caught that:

Secondary gears (gaffs) may not be used to capture, or attempt to capture, free-swimming or undersized HMS

By capturing a free swimming shark without the use of primary gear they may have broken the law in both State and Federal waters leaving no real argument that could be made for where they were or what permits they were operating under.


It is clear that these fishermen, knowingly or not, might have broken the law. As the NOAA documents clearly state: Since fishery rules frequently change, it is your responsibility as a fisherman to become familiar with the latest regulatory updates and to comply with the current official regulations.

Since the fishermen were so kind as to video and broadcast their video it should be an open and shut case for someone who knows fisheries laws.

SFMI will be writing to the following people and urge you to do the same:

NOAA’s Highly Migratory Species Management Division at:
Phone: (301) 713-2347
Fax: (301) 713-1917
Email: Craig Cockrell (Craig.Cockrell@noaa.gov) or Peter Cooper (Peter.Cooper@noaa.gov)

JustNews.com (the agency that made the news report)
Phone: 954-364-2500
Click Here


I’d hazard that I’m not the first to pick up on these fine points of the law but if the video does indeed tell the full tale then these laws need to be enforced. If however the fishermen can provide video evidence of them using PRIMARY tackle (ie hook and line) to initialize the capture then they would be within their rights to have landed the shark. If this turns out to be the case then I will instead turn this report into a cautionary tale of how the media should be more responsible in reporting on shark harvests, particularly when dealing with species considered by some to be globally threatened. If you’d like to comment you can reach me atstaff@sharkfreemarinas.com

Luke Tipple
Director of Shark-Free Marinas

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