Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Shark Management - Public Workshops - Florida

Today I attended a workshop put together by the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission on shark management in Florida (FWC).

Some background: The FWC has scheduled a series of public workshops this month to receive comments on the management of sharks. The FWC is seeking feedback on options for amending its shark management rules that would comply with the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission's Interstate Fishery Management Plan for Atlantic Coastal Sharks.

The Commission wants to hear public comments regarding the recreational and commercial harvest of sharks in state waters of Florida, including possible changes to shark bag and size limits, the prohibited shark species list, and shark landing requirements and gear rules.

To date these meeting have been held in Panama City (no one attended), Coco Beach (predominantly commercial fishermen) and now Ft. Lauderdale / Miami with two more session in the Keys I believe. The two representatives of the FWC gave a presentation reviewing current statewide regulations, FWC managed species, prohibited species, and a number of statistics about recreational fishing (and the impact it has on sharks).

Issues covered throughout the night were:
  1. Prohibited species list
  2. Landing requirements
  3. Minimum size limits
  4. Allowable gear
  5. Bag limit
The last hour was open for attendees to give testimonies and raise concerns. The recurring themes were adding the lemon sharks to the prohibited species list, aligning state and federal water regulations, banning recreational shark fishing of certain species, size limitation (saving the breeding stock) among others.

The meeting was very amicable, I was expecting a lot more temper flares, must have been due to the fact that most people at the meetings were for sharks. And the commercial fishermen that were they understood the situation, many had worked hand-in-hand with various scientists and researchers who have actually shown and taught the scientific community a lot about sharks. I was pleasantly surprised at their understand and knowledge of sharks, would be great to see more collaboration between these and other parties.

And as always, it was great to run into some friends: Neil H, Brendal D, Mary O, Lupo D, Gary A, and the Gruber's (Doc and Mary) - all of which had great testimonies and comments...and a few laughs. Neil opened by saying that he is not as old as Doc (who has been researching sharks for 50 years).

Remains to be seen what the result of these workshops are, but I applaud the fact that the FWC is making this an issue.


O.K the summary ... Sharks were very well represented at the FWC Shark Management meeting in Dania Beach last night! Here's a partial list of attendees:

Doc Gruber + a few other scientists who work with him
Neil Hammerschlag + Leanne
Gary & Brenda Adkison
Jeff Finkus (also from the Shark Foundation)
Walt Stearns
Steve Stock
Jeff Torode - Ft Lauderdale Dive Assn
Brendal Davis
Felix Leander
2 former commercial shark fishermen - Mike Newman and Mike Fay - who now work with Doc Gruber to help him catch lemon sharks to tag.
Several other shark conservation people whose names I didn't get and a reporter from the Sun Sentinel. David Bingham, an FWC enforcement officer was also there. And Lupo and me.

Yes, 100% pro-shark comments!!!

The FWC representative told us that no one showed up for the meeting in Panama City and the meeting in Cocoa (Brevard County) was mainly commercial fishermen. There are two meetings left -- one tonight in Islamorada and then Punta Gorda on Thursday. Let's get some good representation at both of these meetings as well.

The main topics:

1. Overview of the ASMFC Plan Requirements -- Florida must comply with these rules, but may also be more restrictive
2. The ASMFC Plan applies to the Atlantic Coast of Florida -- should the same measures apply on the Gulf Coast?
3. Should Commercial and Recreational fisheries continue to be managed under the same rules?
4. Suggestions for alternative measures for shark management
5. Should FL rules be more restrictive than ASMFC?

Items covered under the ASMFC Plan:

1. Addition of Silky, Sandbar and Caribbean Sharpnose sharks to the prohibited species list. Should any other species be added?
2. Landing requirements - Currently sharks must be landed with fins intact. ASMFC plan calls for sharks to be landed with the head, tail and fins intact.
3. Min. size limit of 54 inches (fork length) excluding Atlantic sharpnose, bonnethead, blacknose, finetooth and smooth dogfish.
4. Gear - only hook and line for sharks
5. Bag limit -- currently 1 max per person or 2 max per vessel per day. ASMFC plan calls for 1 max per vessel per day plus one each of the small sharks excluded from the min size limit. Option for FL would be to keep the same current bag limit of 1 max per person or 2 max per vessel, but require that then second shark (per vessel) be a bonnethead, blacknose, etc.


Aaron Podey, Fisheries Management Analyst with FWC, gave a short presentation (I will scan and send), then took questions, and then gave the opportunity for attendees to provide testimony. Everyone who wanted to speak filled out a card and had a chance to speak. Very organized and easy for everyone to make a comment. Aaron and the other FWC analyst there took notes and will put together a staff recommendation based on the public comments received. In September there will be a draft rule hearing, then in December more public comments will be taken and the Commission will vote on it. Any new rules passed will go into effect in January 2010.

Summary of Comments:

1. Several people suggested banning "live mounts" for taxidermy -- should require that mounts be made from photo / measurement as with billfish. Currently incentives from taxidermy companies to charter boat captains encourage customers to kill the shark just for the sake of the mount. The reasoning is that once they've killed the shark, the client can't back out. One of the fishermen commented that it would be difficult to legislate what people do with their catch once they've killed it, and it would make more sense to just regulate which and how many sharks can be taken.

2. Much discussion about adding shark species to the prohibited list -- especially lemon sharks and great hammerheads.

3. Much discussion about instituting maximum size limits to protect breeding female sharks. Seasonal and area closures were also proposed with a great deal of scientific justification to illustrate how entire populations can be quickly wiped out -- even with the small bag limits in place -- since the aggregations of productive breeding females are being targeted.

4. A maximum seasonal limit was also proposed.

5. Catch and release only for all large coastal sharks was proposed.

6. Need for more enforcement and manpower was discussed. The FWC enforcement officer agreed that this has been a problem, since they have been short staffed. They have been filling positions and will soon have all positions filled.

7. One of the fishermen stated definitively that the meat from any large shark is inedible by the time it's brought back to shore by a recreational boat. A few other people brought up the FL DOH advisory against eating meat from any sharks over 43 inches. The other fisherman suggested that if you're going to allow recreational fishermen to "harvest" large coastal sharks, they should be allowed to filet at sea, so that the meat can at least be used and not discarded.

8. The only representation from the recreational fishing side was Steve Stock, and he was completely in favor of everything that was proposed. He also brought up the Shark Free Marinas concept of putting pressure on marinas to not allow landing of sharks on their docks.

9. Neil suggested that FWC take a precautionary approach to management of species on which there is insufficient information --- if there's not sufficient information, then protect unless you have data to show that the species is not overfished. This is an excellent suggestion and we should get more people to press FWC on this point. Basically the only sharks that they do have sufficient information on are the ones that are relatively plentiful, since they're getting their data from fishing numbers. The ones that need the most protection in many cases are being ignored because of lack of data.


Shark Diver said...

great update Felix and thanks for posting this - looks like florida is moving in the right direction.

Flores Hayes said...

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