Shark Watch- Observing California Shark Catch & Human Interactions

Since 2016, Shark Stewards has been collecting data on recreational shark catch in California documenting events of unsustainable and unsafe attraction and shark fishing near swimmers and surfers in public waters. Through monitoring of fish reports and mining social media, we have collected observations of over 200 incidents of capturing large sharks for sport, including protected white sharks. These sharks are captured and killed or caught and released in public waters near high densities of recreational water users. Many of the sharks are killed or harmed, even when released.

Leveraging these data and shark attack incidents associated with sportfishing and encounters observed by life safety personnel, we are proposing an amendment to ban chumming or baiting large sharks in state waters and on recreational piers. This will increase public safety by keeping sharks, especially juvenile white sharks frequenting Southern California waters, from being attracted to areas of high human activity.

White shark caught of Manhattan Beach Pier

Background

Scientists, students, interns, and volunteers have documented several encroachments of white sharks near public beaches, attracted by bait and struggling fish. One study at the Balboa Pier, which is directly adjacent to a popular swimming and surfing area, shows repeat approaches of white sharks attracted by fishermen. One egregious example occurred on July 5, 2014, when open water swimmer Steven Robles was bitten by a juvenile white shark that had been attracted by fishermen, hooked, played and released, despite the fact that white sharks are a protected species and their capture is illegal. The fishermen’s actions aggravated the shark, which is believed to have directed its fury onto the adjacent swimmer immediately following its release.

Stephen Robles
Shark bite survivors Keane Webre-Hayes, Steven C. Robles, Marie Korcsmaros and Leeanne Ericson, from left, take a group photo at Corona del Mar State Beach in Newport Beach on Friday, May 3, 2019. This was the first time Korcsmaros swam the buoy line after being bit by a shark there in May, 2016. All four are shark bite survivors. Robles was bit by a shark in July, 2014 off Manhattan Beach. Webre-Hayes was bit by a shark in September, 2018 off Encinitas and Ericson was bit off San Onofre State Beach in April, 2017. (Photo by Paul Bersebach, Orange County Register/SCNG)

In summer 2020, Mr. Robles confronted another fisherman shark fishing from the same pier where his group swam a and since has become an advocate for this policy. Additionally, many kayak- shark interactions are catalyzed or exacerbated by baiting or attracting sharks including an encounter with an endangered hammerhead shark off Santa Barbara. These interactions invariably lead to news and social media messaging with negative connotations (“shark attack”). As the white shark population rises off Southern California, reducing risk will also reduce the risk of a vendetta effect, as seen in the shark culls that have taken place in Australia and South Africa during periods of high encounters.

Public safety officials, shark attack survivors lead by our Southern California chair, herself a shark attack survivor, other non profits and Fish and Wildlife staff interviewed all support this measure for public safety. 

shark watch

Photo: World Record sevengill catch killed in San Francisco Bay, 2017

Not limited to white sharks, this program includes tracking the catch and kill of sportfishing record sevengill sharks in the San Francisco Bay and from public piers in Southern California. These sharks are generally mature females, the most important segment of the population to protect. The Guinness Book of World records and the IGFA world record for this species (Notorhynchus cepedianus) have been recorded here and attract fishermen for around the globe. In the Bay, commercial charters leading boatloads of anglers killing as many as 30 sharks per trip in an important nursery area. The largest sharks are pregnant females, so this targeted hunt is having untold consequences on the long-term health of the sevengill population.

Goals: 

1. Compile data and introduce proposed regulation to CA Fish and Wildlife in 2021, banning the attraction and fishing of sharks on public beaches and piers in state waters.

2. Prohibit chumming and baiting, heavy leaders, high test line and gaffs on public piers.

3. Set a maximum size limit and seasonal size limit for sevengill capture in the San Francisco Bay to protect pregnant females if complete ban is unsuccessful