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Act Now

Recreational Fishermen Catch Protected Sharks

On January 18, a young angler in Florida received the surprise of his life by catching a protected white shark becoming the focus of widespread news coverage that profits commercial fishermen who take advantage of loopholes to catch protected sharks in state waters.

12 year-old Campbell Keenan from Massachusetts, was fishing in a commercial charter boat about a mile off the coast of Fort Lauderdale when he boy hooked onto a white shark estimated at 11-12 feet and 700 pounds. With the assistance of the crew he fought with the shark for about 45 minutes before he was able to pull it in alongside the boat.

“You guys got a giant great white!” one of the crew members said. “This is like the most sought after fish in the ocean.”* A crewman was quoted.

Considered Threatened by the IUCN, the white shark is a prohibited species (no retention allowed) in all U.S. waters and fisheries. There are no commercial fisheries for white sharks, but they are occasionally caught as bycatch.  It is illegal to land and possess protected sharks like lemon, tiger, white, hammerheads and 22 other species in Florida waters. In the Atlantic, the white shark is managed under the 2006 Consolidated Atlantic Highly Migratory Species Fishery Management Plan

Despite what the crew called “a no-brainer for hanging on the wall,” Campbell and his mom decided to have the fish tagged and returned to the Atlantic Ocean.*

A 2007 study estimated scalloped hammerhead and tiger sharks may have declined by more than 97 percent in the Atlantic since the 1980s. Bull, dusky, and smooth hammerhead sharks declined by more than 99 percent mainly due to overfishing. In 2011 the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission approved a major shark conservation rule that protects other sharks targeted by fishermen. The law prohibits the recreational and commercial harvest, possession and landing of tiger and hammerhead sharks in state waters (up to 3 miles off the Atlantic coast and up to 9 miles off the Gulf coast). Tiger sharks have declined drastically in recent decades. A 2018 study found that tiger sharks in the Atlantic waters of the United States had declined by up to 95 percent. The three species of hammerhead sharks protected by this regulation (smooth, great and scalloped) are subject to intensive fishing pressure because their large fins are highly valued on the international shark fin market. 

Despite the protected status, commercial fishermen are profiting by targeting sharks, using heavy fishing gear, in waters where catching them is prohibited and enjoying wide-spread news coverage advertising the behavior. Scientific studies have documented that catch and release has negative effects such as stress, altered hormonal levels and fatigue that can impact survival or even cause mortality of the shark released.

This is the third great white shark Capt. Paul Paolucci has caught since 2003, he told ABC News in an interview. A recent LinkedIn post advertises “Shark season is here now in Fort Lauderdale where we catch Hammerhead, Mako, Thresher and Tiger Sharks. Let’s go fishing!”

The white shark is also protected internationally under CITES Appendix II, CMS Appendix II, UNCLOS, and other international regional fisheries management organizations.

Although its is unlikely that the young man was targeting protected species, the boat was trolling with tuna bait on heavy-test line in waters known where shark frequent. Recreational fishermen are having a negative impact on sharks and are rewarded by widespread acknowledgment, despite the questionable legality. The 2007 study by Baum and Meyers documents a cascade effect on the marine ecosystem as a result fo overfishing large sharks, leading to an explosion of prey species like cownose batrays and smaller prey species and a functional collapse of the ecosystem. The lack of apex predators and the increase in smaller predators increase has led to the economic collapse of the Northeaster Bay scallop fishery.

Shark Stewards urges the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWCC) to close loopholes allowing commercial charters to benefit by targeting protected sharks for sport and impact endangered and threatened sharks. In 2022 California passed a law making it illegal to chum or fish for sharks in areas where white sharks are present. Voice your concern by telling the FWCC to enforce and tighten recreational shark fishing regulations.

Report incidents online or call 888-404-FWCC (3922). Cellular phone users can also call *FWC or #FWC, or send a text to Tip@MyFWC.com.


*Miami Herald A 12-year-old boy reeled in a great white shark off Fort Lauderdale. What happened next BY CBS MIAMI UPDATED JANUARY 18, 2023 2:03 PM


Baum JK, Myers RA, Kehler DG, Worm B, Harley SJ, Doherty PA. Collapse and conservation of shark populations in the Northwest Atlantic. Science. 2003 Jan 17;299(5605):389-92. doi: 10.1126/science.1079777. PMID: 12532016.

Baum JK, Myers RA, “Overfishing Large Sharks Impacts Entire Marine Ecosystem, Shrinks Shellfish Supply.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 29 March 2007. <www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/03/070329145922.htm>.

Gallagher, A.J., Serafy, J.E., Cooke, S.J., and Hammerschlag, N. 2014a. Physiological stress response, reflex impairment, and survival of five sympatric shark species following experimental capture and release. Mar. Ecol. Prog. Ser. 496: 207–218. doi:10.3354/meps10490.

Skomal, G.B. 2007. Evaluating the physiological and physical consequences of
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Skomal, G.B., and Bernal, D. 2010. Physiological responses to stress in sharks. In
Sharks and their relatives. II: Biodiversity, adaptive physiology, and conservation. Edited by J. Carrier, J.A. Musick, and M. Heithaus. CRC Press, Boca Raton, Fla. pp. 459–490.