Harmless to humans, shark relatives are frequent victims of killing contests
ANNAPOLIS, Maryland––What’s harder than getting people to recognize cruelty to fish?
How about getting people to respond within just a 72-hour time span on the morning of a closely and bitterly contested national election to a state regulatory proposal to partially protect cownose rays?
Leaving on the midnight train
Posted Fish Feel founder Mary Finelli to social media at 8:44 a.m. on Election Day, “Concerned individuals have until MIDNIGHT November 10, 2016 to comment on Maryland’s proposed regulation to limit bowfishing for cownose rays,” members of a much-persecuted branch of the shark family who are often erroneously blamed for shellfish declines in heavily polluted Chesapeake Bay.”
At Finelli’s request, the deadline was later extended to Sunday, November 13, 2016––still a woefully short public comment period.
“The proposal will be very favorable for the rays if the restriction period is changed to when the rays are present, from May through October,” Finelli continued.
“You can urge it be changed by sending a comment to [email protected],” Finelli finished. “The proposed change is at: http://tinyurl.com/nw6ogvn. More info is at http://fishfeel.org/stop-savage-killing-contests/.”
Would cut archery season for rays to two months
The Maryland Secretary of Natural Resources “is considering prohibiting the use of archery equipment to catch cownose rays from July 1 through December 31,” the agency announced earlier.
The proposed time frame would significantly narrow the window of opportunity for recreationally killing cownose rays, who are massacred by the hundreds in prize-awarding contests, but would not halt either the killing or the contests entirely.
Proposal protects females & pups
Began the Maryland Secretary of Natural Resources media release, “Cownose rays are a migratory species that range from Florida to New Jersey and use the Chesapeake Bay as nursery habitat between the months of May and October. Male cownose rays depart Chesapeake Bay in late June to early July.
“Therefore, cownose rays present in Chesapeake Bay after July 1 are predominantly pregnant females and young-of-the-year pups.
“Cownose rays are a species that matures late,” the media release continued, with males reaching reproductive age at about age 6-7 years, and females about a year later. The cownose ray gestation period is 11 months, two months longer than the gestation period for humans, and the rays birth only one pup per year.
“Sensitive” to being bowhunted
“This combination of traits limits population growth in cownose rays and causes the animal to be sensitive to additional sources of mortality, including fishing,” the Maryland Secretary of Natural Resources explained.
“Although cownose ray populations are inherently limited because of their life history, there is not sufficient data to set specific creel, size or season limits to ensure maintenance of a target fishing rate,” the announcement finished. Therefore, “In order to protect pregnant females and young-of-the-year pups, the Department is considering prohibiting the use of archery equipment to catch cownose rays from July 1 through December 31.”
Why cownose rays are hated
Cownose rays came to be targeted by recreational fishers with particular venom after studies led by Julia Baum of Dalhousie University in Halifax, published in the prestigious journal Science, in both 2003 and 2007 blamed overfishing of larger sharks for the decline of the Chesapeake Bay scallop and oyster industries.
“With fewer sharks around, the species they prey upon — like cownose rays — have increased in numbers, and in turn, hordes of cownose rays dining on bay scallops have wiped the scallops out,” Baum alleged.
“Veal of the Chesapeake”
The Virginia Marine Products Board then “endorsed the creation of a ray fishery and promoted the majestic, hawk-like sea creature as the ‘veal of the Chesapeake,’” recalled Rona Kobell of Bay Journal in February 2016.
“In Maryland,” Kobell continued, “local outdoorsmen organized tournaments where fishermen would shoot and kill hundreds of rays and win prizes for the animals based on weight.”
But data was wrong
Robert Fisher of the Virginia Institute of Marine Science later found from examining the contents of rays’ stomachs that while they eat oysters, shellfish are not their main food source.
Re-examining Baum’s data, Dean Grubbs of Florida State University concluded that she had “over-stated both the decline in big sharks and the ability of cownose rays to reproduce enough to devastate shellfish populations,” Kobel summarized.
Contest killing video
Killing cownose rays had meanwhile become controversial as result of video documentation obtained by the animal advocacy organization Showing Animals Respect & Kindness and Fish Feel. The most dramatic scenes showed killing contest participants shooting rays and clubbing them to death, then discarding the remains of those deemed too small to be likely to help them win a prize.
“The video prompted both Virginia and Maryland, as well as the Chesapeake Bay Program, to review the way they manage the ray population in the Chesapeake,” Kobell wrote.
One contest cancelled, one delayed
In 2016 one ray-killing contest scheduled for June 11 “was cancelled because of sponsorship problems,” SHARK and Fish Feel said in a media statement, while another proceeded on June 26, 2016 only after it “lost two venues where organizers had hoped to hold it.”
Again SHARK and Fish Feel videotaped the killing.
Said SHARK founder and president Steve Hindi, who has frequently videotaped and exposed pigeon shoots, prairie dog shoots, deer culls, bullfights, and rodeos for more than 25 years, “These killing contests are some of the most depraved acts of animal cruelty we have ever witnessed.”