It started out as "the shark of a lifetime". Around June 12th, the charter boat Phoenix out of Destin, FL was hired for the day for a snapper fishing excursion. At one point, they saw a 14 foot hammerhead shark feeding on a sea turtle.
In an article in the Destin (FL) Log from June 12th, Captain Robson said:
“We had been out snapper fishing and were just working around on our way back,” Robson said when they spotted the massive shark
I think that quote is very telling, and sets up the story. They had been out snapper fishing. The past tense means they were probably heading in This is speculation of course, but I've been on charter fishing excursions before, and when you're coming in - you're coming in. The only way a captain will stop to continue fishing is if more money is offered.
Let's let the captain continue (again, from the Destin Log article):
“It was going around a turtle when we eased up on it,” Robson said.
“Holy crap that’s a big hammerhead and it’s been eating on that green turtle.”
The shark disappeared.
The crew aboard the Phoenix put a bait out and it disappeared again.
Again, the captain's choice of words: "...when we eased up on it." He was going some place, at speed, and slowed down to where the shark was feeding. Now - the last sentence is super important. Let me quote it again:
"The crew aboard the Phoenix put a bait out and it disappeared again."
Why is it so important? Let's look at an article in the NWF Daily News (news and information for the Emerald Coast!):
"Robson explained the death, saying his boat crew accidentally hooked it and couldn’t control it enough to unhook and release."
Whoops. Well that's a bit different from the Destin Log interview, where Captain Robson continues:
At that point they tossed a bonito out for bait on a 50-wide loaded with 80 or 100 pound test.
To borrow from Henchman 21 of The Venture Bros.: Accident? That was no accident. That shark died in an intentional.
But here's the thing: The great hammerhead shark is NOT protected in Federal waters. As indicated in this article from The Dodo:
Despite notable evidence of the severe decline of both species (great and scalloped hammerheads) in recent decades and their extreme vulnerability to being captured as bycatch, NMFS cited that there was not enough data on population trends in order for them to mandate a listing for either species.
Which means, in Federal waters, it's open season. In Florida waters, that's another thing, they're protected, and landing a hammerhead will result in fines and increased scrutiny from the Florida Wildlife Commission. And at the beginning, the captain was fairly confident and smug about the catch, having posted pictures on his (now removed) Facebook page for the Phoenix, and obviously in the article for the Destin Log.
And then this happened:
Crew rips pups from hammerhead shark in front of Destin tourists, AL.com reports
YouTube! It's not just for cat videos and exposing police corruption! Apparently a tourist caught someone (the Captain claims it wasn't someone associated with him) dismembering the shark - and emptying it of the 34 pups the pregnant shark was carrying. With over 1,000,000 hits, the world got to witness the end of a genetic line of an endangered species. And with Shark Week fast approaching, the story spread far and wide - and people contacted the Florida Wildlife Commission and an investigation was launched.
Captain Robson could resolve this problem immediately by handing over his GPS logs. There's no indication in the article he's done that. Maybe he doesn't have/keep them, or maybe there's something else at play. Hopefully the FWC will suss it out.
But this goes beyond the tragic loss of this single shark and her pups. This is happening every day with by-catch by the large fisheries (especially tuna fisheries) and it doesn't make the Discovery Channel and the Daily Mail. Sharks are being overfished and by-caught at a level where almost 1/4 of shark species are threatened with extinction. There is no commercial fishery for hammerheads in the US. There should be NO commercial fishery for hammerheads or any threatened, unmanaged shark or ray species, anywhere, period - not until they've recovered to a sustainable level.
And this wouldn't have happened at all IF the National Marine Fisheries Service had declared the hammerheads protected under the Endangered Species Act, following the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources who HAVE red-listed the scalloped, smooth, and great hammerhead sharks. Hopefully at their next review (no indication of when that might be), they'll list hammerhead species as protected so stories like this never happen again.
As Captain Robson says:
“Screaming at me will not change the law,” he said. “Help us work to change these laws and help us educate fishermen.”
But I'm sure he at least knows now.
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