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  Seaweek 2005 - Save Our Sharks - Student Info sheet    
Student Information Sheet 10 - Release of Sharks
in Recreational Fisheries
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Recreational fishers catch lots of sharks and rays, but they let a lot of them go too. A recent national survey showed that about 1.2 million sharks and rays are caught by recreational fishers every year in Australia. Importantly though about one million of these are released; and compared with other fish that is a very high rate of release.

It is likely that the main reason for this is that most are caught while fishing for other species of fish and are often not considered good to keep and eat. Because so many are let go, ensuring the survival of released sharks and rays is important, and can be helped by the use of simple techniques.


What is tagging?
As well as incidental catches and releases (bycatch), sharks are also caught on purpose and released. Right around Australia, gamefish anglers are given plastic dart tags by New South Wales Fisheries for tagging a number of sharks, including the large offshore pelagic species such as mako (Isurus species), blue (Prionace glauca), tiger (Galeocerdo cuvier) and whaler sharks (Carcharhinidae family).

When tagging, sharks are baited and caught by rod and reel. When a shark is hooked, it is brought to the boat and if large, is tagged without removing it from the water. The shark is placed in a position where the tagger can place the tag in the shoulder of the shark using a tag pole.

Tags for sharks have a simple printed message, a return address and phone number, and a unique serial number at each end.

The tag is jabbed into the shoulder muscle near the bottom of the dorsal fin, and the shark is then released as quickly as possible, by removing the hook or cutting the line. Smaller sharks are usually brought on board and tagged. After a fish has been released, a prepaid postal tag card is filled out with details of the species, location, size and condition of the fish and mailed back to New South Wales Fisheries to be entered into a data base.

Each time the shark is caught again, the fisher calls the phone number on the tag and reports the location where the particular shark was caught. This information is then entered into the database by New South Wales Fisheries and is used to keep track of shark movements and size, if possible.

Sharks appear to recover much faster than other fishes from the stress of being hooked. However, poor handling techniques can lead to higher numbers of shark deaths, so it is a good idea to be aware of the best methods for releasing sharks and rays to maximise survival.

River whalers also known as bull sharks (Carcharhinus leucas) are caught, tagged and released in freshwater (© Neil Schultz)

River whaler showing tag
(© Neil Schultz)


Techniques for release
Always have good gloves and a wet towel handy and if possible, a soft, shady surface on which to place the shark. When a shark is brought to the boat, either net it, or swing it on board and quickly lay it horizontally, on a soft carpet or piece of sponge. Do not place fish on hot surfaces since their skin may burn easily. Hold the shark firmly behind the head and around the tail wrist using gloves and/or a wet towel, and then try to remove the hook.

If the hook cannot be removed easily the line should be cut as close to the mouth as possible. Usually hooks will eventually fall out or pass through the stomach whereas trying to remove a deeply lodged hook could damage internal organs or blood vessels.

The internal organs of many species of shark are loosely held in place by connective tissue. In the water, these organs are supported, but if the shark is lifted by the tail, the tissue may tear. There is also the danger of damaging tendons which hold the vertebrae in place. These problems are less likely to damage small sharks, but the best rule is to always try and lift sharks in a horizontal position. This can be done using a large net or by holding the shark by the tail wrist with one hand, and placing the other hand under the belly.

Sharks twist and turn when captured, so you need to be careful and protect the angler and the shark or ray from injury (quite a few nasty injuries have been caused by a thrashing shark in the bottom of a small boat). Often, if a shark is turned over onto its back, or held upside down, it will become quite calm and easy to handle, probably because it becomes confused in this position. As well as laying sharks on their backs, placing a wet towel over their eyes will also often help to calm them.

In the case of sting rays it is best to simply cut the line as close to the mouth as possible while the ray is still in the water. As most people know, many species of sting rays have very dangerous serrated barbs on their tails that can cause serious and painful injuries. (If you are unlucky enough to be stung, apply very hot water to the area of the wound. Heat stops the venom from working, although care should be taken not to burn the patient.) While it is true that not all rays are equipped with barbs in their tails, the best rule is to never handle any ray which possesses a whip-like tail.

River whalers also known as bull sharks
(Carcharhinus leucas) (© Neil Schultz)

Tagged bull shark (Carcharhinus leucas)
(© Neil Schultz)

Tagged bull shark (Carcharhinus leucas)
(© Neil Schultz)

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Save Our Sharks March 6 to 13, 2005