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Catch and release shark angling: Best practises to save our sharks

By Tamzyn Zweig, 6th July 2012

Are you a sport angler?
Do you love the thrill of catching a shark and releasing it safely back into its natural habitat?
If you want to ensure that the shark, skate or ray you release has the best chance of survival, please consider the following simple guidelines:

Getting started – What is in your tackle box?
• Use carbon or mild steel hooks (not stainless steel) with minimal protective coating. This way if you lose the shark before it is landed the hook will rust out within a few weeks.

• Use single barbless circle hooks. If your hooks are not barbless, flatten the barb with a pair of pliers.

• Use a hook remover for throat hooked sharks. If the shark has swallowed the hook, do not attempt to pull it out – this will cause serious damage and compromise the survival of the shark. Cut the line as close to the hook as possible if you are unable to remove the hook.

Avoid using a gaff especially near sensitive areas such as brain, belly and dorsal fin and tail area where there are major blood vessels close to the shark’s skin surface. Instead of gaffing, reel the shark in as close as possible and use a stretcher to carry the shark to shore.

In the water and on the beach – whatever you do – do it quickly!

• FIGHT TIME: The longer the fight time, the longer it will take for your shark to recover. Sharks suffer lactic acid and carbon dioxide build-up in their blood and muscles, similar to how your muscles stiffen after a good work-out. Use heavy tackle to minimize fight time.

• AIR EXPOSURE: Work as fast as possible once the shark is on the beach. Imagine someone putting a plastic bag over your head after you have run a marathon and are gasping for breath – this may be close to how the shark is feeling.

• HOOK LOCATION: Strike quickly to ensure the hook attaches in the corner of the sharks mouth and does not swallow your bait. If the shark is gut hooked, do not attempt to pull/tear remove the hook. Cut the line as close to the hook as possible.

• ORGAN INJURY: Sharks do not have a rigid skeleton preventing their organs from being crushed by their body weight while out of water. Work with the shark in the shallows if possible.

• LINE ENTANGLEMENT: Keep your trace tight to avoid the shark getting entangled in your fishing line.

• HANDLING: Do not drag the shark over the rocks or sand. Never pull a shark by the tail or pick it up by the gill slits or spiracles (modified gill slit behind the eyes prominent in skates and rays). Do not lift Hammerhead sharks by the sides of their heads as the area contains are many sensitive organs (called the Ampullae of Lorenzini) which are vital for successful hunting. Larger sharks will require two people restrain and carry the animal. One person to restrain and support the tail area and the other to carry the shark with a tight grip from behind the pectoral fins. If possible use a stretcher to carry the shark back into the water.

The hard work is over right? Not quite!

Use the following release techniques to increase the shark, skate or rays chance of survival:

• Use a stretcher to transport your shark back into deeper water. A stretcher can easily be constructed at home with fine mesh shade clothe or canvas.
• If the shark is in good condition return it to the water gently, head first.
• If your released shark appears to be swimming erratically, lies motionless on the bottom or swims back to shore, some revival assistance may be required. Hold the shark upright in the water facing into the current. Continue to hold the shark until it swims away strongly.


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