Landing Goliath groupers still off limits & land-based shark fishing to be restricted
FORT LAUDERDALE, Florida––Concern over cruelty to fish dominated the April 25-26, 2018 meeting of the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission, including a spirited defense of Goliath groupers led by Rabbi Ed Rosenthal, the self-proclaimed “Scuby Jew” who serves as faculty adviser to the Eckerd College diving club.
Florida allows anglers to catch and release Goliath groupers, but does not allow killing them. The Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission had been asked to permit anglers to land Goliath groupers, to eat and to mount as trophies.
“Eating too much”
“The proposal grew out of complaints by some anglers that, after having once been in decline, Goliath groupers have rebounded in some areas to the point that they are eating too much,” summarized Tampa Times environment reporter Craig Pittman.
Though the Biblical Goliath sought to destroy the Hebrew people, the Rabbi Rosenthal identified with the Goliath grouper, joking “that his presence had added resonance, given the grouper’s politically incorrect original name of ‘jewfish,’ wrote Pittman.
“The sea is God’s,” Rosenthal told the commissioners. “The Goliath grouper,” a deep water fish that can reach 800 pounds, “is a wonder of creation.”
“Protect groupers like manatees”
Testified Diving Equipment & Marketing Association president Tom Ingram, “You should put more protections in place for them, like you do for manatees. They’re both slow-moving, and they both attract divers to Florida.”
Retired Florida State University biologist Chris Koenig, a longtime grouper researcher, “pointed out that many are so full of dangerous mercury that they can’t be eaten,” Pittman recounted, “which means the people who catch them would be doing it strictly to display a trophy.”
The commissioners found the arguments for groupers persuasive, voting down the proposal to allow anglers to kill them a day after voting unanimously to “impose restrictions on shore-based shark fishing,” wrote Florida Sun Sentinel environment reporter David Fleshler.
Shore-based shark fishing done for YouTube
Shore-based shark fishing, Fleshler explained, is “an activity that produces hair-raising YouTube videos of nighttime battles with great hammerheads and tiger sharks,” but “frightens swimmers, who fear it brings big sharks closer to shore,” while “scientists say it endangers the sharks, who are often dragged onto the beach for photos that gratify fishermen’s egos but reduce the sharks’ chances of survival upon their return to the ocean.”
The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission directed staff to “draw up tougher shore-based shark-fishing rules,” Fleshler detailed. “The rules — to be determined later — could include a special license for shore-based fishing, stricter requirements on how to handle them, and possible restrictions on fishing gear.”
“People should be ashamed of themselves”
“Some of those pictures shown on social media are disgraceful,” said commissioner Joshua Kellam. “I think it’s a disgrace to the animal. It’s a disgrace to our wildlife. Morally, people should be ashamed of themselves to post stuff like that, to do that stuff to animals. People who do these things should be punished for their actions.”
Testified shark advocate Kent Bonde, “Footage includes at least one pregnant hammerhead, and an assortment of tiger, lemon and sandbar sharks, all of whom have been dragged ashore to serve as photo opportunities before being dragged back into the water.”
Bonde suffered a shark attack off Grand Bahama in August 2001, but went on to help lead shark conservation efforts.
Melbourne Beach mayor Jim Simmons emphasized the safety aspect.
“We have regulations on feeding alligators and cleaning fish where alligators are likely to be present,” Simmons said. “We don’t allow divers to feed sharks. Even though we have no hard data, we know it would be foolish to allow those activities. Yet we allow shark-fishing and blood-baiting among swimmers, while saying there’s no hard data and the correlation cannot be proven.”
The Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission was held about 10 days after Viktor Hluben, of the YouTube channel Land Shark Fishing, posted video of beach sharkers catching and releasing “an unheard of 11 hammerhead sharks and two tiger sharks in 12 hours of fishing time,” reported Ed Killer of WFAA.
“They were fishing what appeared to be a public beach access on Hutchinson Island in St. Lucie County,” Killer said.
“On a related note,” Killer added, “beachgoers at Jensen Beach,” ten miles away, “called the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to report a large hammerhead shark washed up dead on the shore. The FWC contacted researchers at Florida Atlantic University’s Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute in Fort Pierce. Harbor Branch sent a team to collect the shark to bring it back to its lab to perform a necropsy.
Feds don’t protect hammerheads
“Could the hammerhead have been one caught during the fishing session captured by the YouTuber?” Killer asked. “Possibly. Harbor Branch lead researcher Matt Ajemian said there is no way to know for certain.”
“Three types of hammerhead sharks, including the species in the photos [that Kellam and Bonde described] are prohibited from harvest in Florida state waters,” Killer noted. “So are 23 other species of sharks. However,” beyond the three-mile limit of state jurisdiction over fishing, “hammerhead sharks receive no protection,” Killer finished, “except from finning, in U.S. federal waters extending 200 miles from land.”
Shark-draggers still awaiting trial
Shark fishers accused of wrongdoing under Florida law usually contend that they were more than three miles offshore, but that claim so far has not helped Michael Wenzel, 21, Robert Lee Benac, 23, and Spencer Heintz, 23. All were charged in December 2017 with two third degree felony counts each of aggravated animal cruelty for dragging a live blacktip shark behind a speeding yacht, as shown in two videos posted to social media on July 24, 2017.
Wenzel and Benac also face second degree misdemeanor counts of illegally taking a shark. The location of the alleged offenses has reportedly been identified from the video backgrounds as having been well within the three-mile limit.
The alleged shark-draggers’ trials are pending.
Dead or alive?
Currently Denver Broncos linebacker Von Miller “is under investigation by the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission after posting a photo of himself with a hammerhead shark on social media,” reported Rick Sallinger of CBS-4 in Miami on April 4, 2018.
“Miller posted the photo of himself holding the bloodied shark by the tail on his Instagram story and it was shared by multiple media outlets,” Sallinger recounted. “Miller also posted video of the catch — and release — which was recorded and posted by TMZ,” and also appears to have occurred within the three-mile limit.
Miller contends that he released the shark as required by Florida law.
“However,” Sallinger said, “it’s not clear from the video whether the shark was alive or dead. It floats away on its side before disappearing under the water. The boat captain told TMZ the 9½-foot hammerhead shark was the biggest hammerhead he’d seen all season.”
What became of alleged gator-dragger?
The Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission is reportedly also investigating “a Snapchat video that appears to show an alligator being dragged behind an ATV in Volusia County,” WESH/WKCF news reported on March 19, 2018.
Visiting the alleged gator-dragger’s home in Mims, 33 miles west of Orlando, “A trapper and FWC officer said they planned to recover the alligator, which was still alive in his yard,” WESH/WKCF news said. The video was to have been sent to the Florida state attorney’s office to see if the alleged gator-dragger could be criminally charged.
Five weeks later there was still no available follow-up information about the case.
Cownose ray case also unsolved
Neither has there been reported progress in bringing to justice whoever was responsible for killing as many as 70 cownose rays and some puffer fish found on March 13, 2018 at Joe’s Bayou and Jewel Melvin Park in Destin, Florida.
Destin resident Shane Reynolds, formerly host and producer of the National Geographic show Shane Untamed, aired in 2011, started a reward fund for information identifying the cownose ray killers, but the reward of more than $1,600 is apparently as yet unclaimed.