Don't Get Caught Slipping: How to Handle Protected Species

Posted by Spencer Wonder on

Across the world Landbased Shark Fishing as a sport is coming under incredible scrutiny. As the noose tightens around our beloved pastime one common thread emerges as the primary reasoning behind increased restrictions: improper handling of protected species. In every fishery there are species that are not permitted to be taken or harvested. These regulations are intended to protect these potentially vulnerable species from fishing pressures that may further reduce their stocks. As a whole, the LBSF community and the sportfishing community agree that these species do indeed deserve these protections, but where the friction begins to build is in how the handling of these species when they do inadvertently get hooked.

              In Florida for example, there are a plethora of sharks and gamefish available from land, and only a handful of these species are “protected” or illegal to harvest. Hammerheads are one of the primary species in this category, and they also happen to be quite possibly the most powerful gamefish on the planet! As a result, quite a few of these critters are hooked and landed by LBSF groups. Same goes for Tiger Sharks, Goliath Grouper, and Lemon Sharks etc. on the East Coast. On the opposite side of the country there are fewer protected species, primarily Black Sea Bass and Great White Sharks. The occurrence of these species is no great mystery, fish long enough and with the right tackle and eventually you will hook a protected species, no matter where it is you are fishing!

              Hooking and landing a protected species is not a crime. Fishing in areas where these fish occur is not a crime. Equipping oneself with the gear required to quickly subdue such species is not only completely legal, but absolutely paramount to ensuring a clean, healthy, and legal release of these wonderful species. In fact, the single most important factor leading to a successful release of a large protected species like a Hammerhead or Great White is fight time: The shorter the fight, the better condition the fish will be released in!

              The other primary factor in ensuring clean releases of protected species is fish handling: how the fish is dealt with once landed. First and foremost, the fish should never be removed completely from the water. Large fish, sharks in particular, are extremely susceptible to trauma resulting from the crushing force of gravity on their bodies when removed from the water. Secondly, hook removal should be a quick process. If the hook is too embedded to be removed within a reasonable amount of time then the cutters should be utilized to quickly clip the leader as close as is safe. Once the fish is unhooked and free of the line, no time should be wasted with photos. Instead, have one member of the team video-tape the entire landing process. This serves three purposes. The first being that the entire process is recorded if ever the angler faces scrutiny over the catch or release, which in this day and age is all to common. Secondly, still photographs can be removed from the video for later publication or to document the catch for the anglers own personal edification. Thirdly, reviewing the video later with your team will reveal places where improvements can be made for the next catch, much the same way professional athletes review game footage. The shorter and more practiced the release is, the better the chances the fish has for survival! Finally, it is worth noting that photographs taken while “posing” for the camera may be taken by law enforcement as an example of “delaying the release” of the fish, and may in some localities be seen as illegal fish handling!

So lets recap:

  1. Always fish the heaviest tackle possible!
  2. Never remove the fish from the water!
  3. Don’t waste time on hook removal!
  4. Don’t pose for photographs!
  5. Video record the entire release procedure!


Following the aforementioned procedures will ensure the safety and legality of that next trophy fish! We all long for that once in a lifetime fish, and by taking the right steps both angler and quarry can escape unscathed!

Thanks for reading!