Troubled Waters

“Troubled Waters For Sharks” Published June 8th, 2008

(Original article is posted on this page below Captain Bill’s response)

June 9, 2008

Mr. Tom Lyons
Sarasota Herald Tribune

To Mr. Tom Lyons,

Sir, I am writing this letter in response to the story by Steve Gibson (Outdoors) titled The Great Debate Troubled Waters, June 8th, about Dr. Heuter’s concerns about sports fishermen killing sharks. My first thought was, “Oh no, not again.” Once a commercial shark fisherman of some forty years, and now semi-retired, I am now relegated to researcher of “shark experts.” Because of my years capturing live sharks for display at public aquariums, I am considered by many a shark expert. (Oh, I might add that in the late 60’s and early 70’s, I captured sharks for Mote Marine when they occupied South Siesta Key. I often knocked heads with both Dr. Perry Gilbert, Director and Bill Mote before his death after the Lab had moved to its present location on City Island). I’m humble enough now though, to recognize there are no shark experts, only students trying to understand a very unpredictable creature which swims at the very top of the world’s food chain.

Since Mote Marine Laboratory was designated by the U.S. Congress as the National Center for Shark Research in 1991, I have found myself disagreeing with their “truths.” Am I disagreeing with God Almighty? (Bob Hueter, the Director, actually). I’ve often gone to Fishermen vs. Government Agency meetings, to refute the ‘experts’ and their over fishing propaganda. The latest is a claim that the brown shark is endangered and must be protected. In any outgoing tide and full moon in February and March, I hook this species by the dozens from the beach at Bean Point on Anna maria Island. I’ve invited reporters to watch, no takers.

My wife and I often read your column and find you a very objective reporter who seeks the truth. I especially liked your story about Captain Bucky Dennis who captured a record hammerhead in 2006 off Boca Grande. Seems those concerned with the environment wanted to lynch the fisherman until he donated the fish to Mote Lab. They in turn, mounted it, charging a sizable fee to view it in all its fiberglass glory. This seems hypocritical to me, but I guess I’m just an old shark fisherman.

In any case, between Mote, the National Marine Fisheries Service, Florida Wildlife Conservation Commission, a ‘self-styled’ shark attack expert named George Burgess (curator of the International Shark Attack File) and a host of other agencies protecting their economics under the guise of environmentalism, what chance do I have in getting some facts out about this formidable predator? I, myself, have captured 10,000 sharks in my lifetime, displayed them live at Marineland, the Miami Seaquarium, Sea World Orlando. I’ve used shark by-products (yes, fins too), their hides and meat, and have cleaned, mounted and sold the jaws which turn up periodically in nautical stores with large price tags. During this time, I did extensive research on my catches and even invited scientists and sportsmen to photograph sharks underwater from the safety of an anti-shark cage. During all of this, I’ve managed to learn a bit.

I’ve documented and photographed the dissection of hundreds of pregnant sharks over the years. Browns, dusky, blacktip and bulls average a dozen pups, not the 4 or 5 Dr. Heuter claims in Steve Gibson’s article. Hammerheads and tiger sharks can often have 50 to 100 pups at a time. Additionally, these species mature much faster than the 15-20 years he claims. This is evidenced by monitoring them in captivity.

Dr. Heuter asks, “Is killing hooked sharks for sport ethical?” As one whose business depended on delivering live sharks for display in good condition, I needed to know the safest method of capture and did my research. This whole catch and release fishing is nothing more than a make me feel good deal. Fact is, most hooked sharks undergo a condition during their capture called lactic acid saturation that often paralyzes the fish after capture. Removing the hook not only is dangerous, but most of the time the shark will swim off and sink to the bottom to die or get eaten by other sharks. I’ve often seen this in the Keys, returning to a reef the next day after releasing sharks, finding them dead on the reef bottom.

One must get up close and personal to have a true understanding of the shark. For one, they are not ‘misunderstood’ by me. My personal encounters with sharks over 40 plus years have enabled me to look at the shark through clear glasses, not pink, harmonious ones! Webster’s Dictionary states:

Shark (1) various predatory cartilaginous fishes, having a rough scaleless skin, a wide mouth on the underside of head and five to seven gill slits on each side; some attack humans.

Shark (2) a person who preys greedily on others.

The first definition is very true. Though some sharks are harmless, most are dangerous, unpredictable and under the right circumstances will bite humans. The fact that most attacks are not fatal is due to quick medical attention and the victim’s ability to defend himself.

The second definition is also true and relative in this case. My years of research have proven that the two-legged variety are even more dangerous. These ‘sharks’ have a financial stake in regulations and the whole shark protection advocacy racket. It’s not rocket science ’Äì the economy of this state is tourism, a billion dollar industry. Public safety is not profitable.

If tourists don’t spend their money here, they’ll spend it elsewhere. Therefore, sharks are not dangerous, but ‘misunderstood’ and ‘dwindling in numbers.’ (According to Mote’s propaganda and the so-called world-wide catch totals).

I recently called Mote’s Aquarium and asked why they only had three sandbar sharks in their display tank for nearly a year. This species is a somewhat inoffensive pussycat as far as sharks go. When did they plan to get a tiger shark or a bull or a lemon, something more aggressive for an impressive display? “Oh, that’s all we keep, the other species you ask about are difficult to maintain and are very rare.” I was told. I said, “That’s funny because an eleven foot tiger was first prize last week at the Sarasota Shark Tournament. They also caught several bull sharks, blacktip and a lemon. They can’t be that hard to find.” Then HE said, “Oh, you’re one of those shark rednecks!” Click went the phone.

Mr. Lyons, if you really want to see that this is indeed a Great Debate, take a parasail or plane tour down the Gulf Coast in the morning and count the dwindling sharks swimming off our shore. Interestingly, Dr. Bob Heuter told the St. Petersburg Times one September (after several shark attacks, one fatal) that he’d had an ‘ominous premonition.’ “I had an uncomfortable feeling something was going to happen,” he was quoted as saying. He’d based his ‘premonition’ on the reports that the Lab had received about increased bull shark activity along our beaches. One must question why he was so late in sharing his concern with state officials. Hm, maybe we could alert people who are in the water! Nah, remember, Economics.

Here’s some food for thought: Mote passes out leaflets to the public: “Let’s do the stingray shuffle.” Because, as the Gulf warms up, the stingrays come close to shore. “Move your feet and alert them to your presence.” Good information from the Shark Gods. But they don’t tell you to do the “Bullshark Boogie.” Because, as the stingray come close to shore, so do bull sharks, hammerhead and tigers. To eat the stingray.

No, they won’t tell you this. They’re more concerned with those bad, beer drinking shark hunters, “hoisting blood dripping sharks spilling their babies on the dock.” Come on, Dr. Heuter, Mote, Everyone, isn’t that just a little sensationalistic? I think they’re adding to the ‘poor shark’ hysteria.

Enclosed are some of my printed credentials for your perusal.


Captain Bill Goldschmitt

Troubled Waters For Sharks
June 8, 2008
By: Steve Gibson
Sarasota Herald Tribune

If you’ve fished for tarpon in Boca Grande Pass, it’s easy to understand that you probably think there’s nothing wrong with the shark fishery. Seems as if there are hundreds of sharks in the world-famous pass, picking off hooked tarpon by the dozen. But the shark fishery isn’t in good shape, according to Bob Hueter, director of the Center for Shark Research at Mote Marine Laboratory on City Island in Sarasota. The fishery hasn’t been in good shape in years.

In fact, there was time in the early 1990s that scientists such as Hueter felt the shark fishery was on the verge of collapsing. They were being harvested faster than they could reproduce. Hueter and many others fought a determined battle to protect sharks. Unlimited harvest was allowed a year ago, but bag limits have been greatly decreased. Today, the limit is one per person or two per vessel. It seemed as if the public climbed aboard, embracing the philosophy. Kill-shark tournaments became a thing of the past. However, shark tournaments are beginning to resurface around the state. Hueter said many people now feel there are plenty of sharks and that kill tournaments are OK.

“After the summer of 2001, when we had a lot of publicity about shark attacks and seeing a lot of sharks in our waters, there has been a lot of interest in shark fishing and killing big sharks,” Hueter said. “It has reversed about two decades of conservation education.”

It’s not illegal to fish for, land and kill sharks. It’s more of an ethical issue than anything. Take tarpon, for example. There are many tarpon tournaments conducted around the state, but there’s only one kill tournament. The West Coast Anglers Tarpon Roundup of St. Petersburg began May 10 and ends July 19. It’s not legal to kill a tarpon, but you must have a $50 tag from the state. The issue is, why kill a tarpon? They’re not good to eat. What are you going to do with the carcass? As for sharks, why kill something from a troubled population just for the sake of killing? In some instances, organizers of shark tournaments justify killing the fish because they donate a portion of their proceeds to charity or other causes. Hueter believes than many of those running shark tournaments or competing in them may have been too young when the battle was being fought in the 1980s and early 1990s.

“We’ve got a new generation of fishermen who are thinking we have more sharks than ever before and more shark attacks than ever before,” said Hueter.

It’s not so. Only one species of shark — the blacktip — is in reasonably good shape. All others are troubled. The reason is that it takes many shark species 15 to 20 years to become sexually mature. And then the females will reproduce only every other year, some giving birth to as few as four or five pups. Hueter likes to remind shark enthusiasts that catch-and-release fishing is acceptable. “You can tag a shark and watch it swim away,” he said. “You don’t necessarily have to have a dead animal on the dock with blood dripping out of its mouth or dead females hanging there with babies dropping out.” Shark tournaments, however, draw big crowds. Competitors spend money in local tackle shops on line, hooks, tackle and bait. They line up to buy fuel. They fill their coolers with ice, water, beer, soda and sandwiches. And that’s good in this economy for the retailer. “People want to see these animals,” said Hueter. “But wouldn’t it be better to come to Mote and see them alive?”

Hueter is not against shark fishing. But you can still experience all the the excitement of the sport and still release the fish. “Is killing sharks a sport?” he said. “There’s a lot of sport in finding the animals, attracting them to the bait, hooking them up and battling them. “But to land them and string them up, is that sport?” It hadn’t been for a couple of decades. But kill tournaments are beginning to sprout again throughout the state. “The one concern that I have is young kids when they see this,” said Hueter. “You’re just perpetuating the myth that it’s OK to kill sharks for sport. It’s OK in their minds because these animals are just going to kill people anyway.”

That’s not true, but that’s the prevailing myth.

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