Florida is preparing a new statewide ban on the practice by fishermen along the state’s iconic beaches of dumping bloody fish guts into the ocean to lure sharks closer to shore – and possibly closer to swimmers and waders.
The Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission was expected later this month to finalize a ban on “chumming” when fishing for any species from the beach. The technique – often used for sharks – involves scattering blood, oil and pieces of ground-up fish to produce a slick carried on the current or tide to lure predators closer to baited hooks.
“Personally, I would strongly prefer to not be in the water where folks are ringing the dinner bell for the ocean’s ultimate predator,” said Debbie Salamone, whose Achilles tendon was severed by a shark bite while wading 50 feet off the Cape Canaveral National Seashore in 2004. She has since become a shark conservation advocate: “It’s really good to be clear that sharks do not want to eat people.”
The new regulation would ban placing chum in the water for fishing and defines chum as fish, fish parts or other animal products intended to attract marine wildlife.
The commission scheduled its final public hearing on the matter for Wednesday in Gainesville, but its professional staff has already recommended that it formally approve the chumming ban that same day. It also was expected to require a new annual permit at no cost to shark fishermen on beaches, releasing some species immediately without taking them out of the water and using non-stainless steel circle hooks.
All the new rules would take effect July 1.
Some fishermen complained that the ban threatens long-held traditions and penalizes anglers who don’t own or can’t afford to fish for sharks using boats, where it would remain lawful to chum the waters even close to shore.
Daniel Rodriguez of Melbourne has a deep passion for shark fishing, he said. His largest catch from the beach, a 13-foot hammerhead, is one of his proudest accomplishments.
Rodriguez urged the state to be careful about new rules or restrictions on anglers.
“I ask that you tread lightly with your rules and fees,” Rodriguez wrote to the commission. “The ability to enjoy the fishing tradition including shark fishing should be affordable and accessible to everyone.”
Scientists said catching sharks from beaches – regardless whether there is chum present – can permanently damage sharks. David Shiffman, a shark conservation biologist at Simon Fraser University, said shore-based fishing gives sharks increased “angling stress.”
Angling stress – what fishermen often call “the fight” – can kill a shark even if you release it while fishing onshore, Shiffman said. Catching sharks on the beach is particularly dangerous for the shark, he said. As it is dragged onshore for a catch-and-release, it receives micro-abrasions and loses the buoyancy its organs need to function. He opposes chumming from beaches.
“You probably shouldn’t dump gallons and gallons of chum right next to a bunch of tourists on their beach vacation,” Shiffman said.
Enforcing the new ban could be difficult along Florida’s 663 miles of shoreline. Shiffman proposed reserving some beaches just for shark fishing.
Henry Lewis, a marine biology junior at the University of South Florida, estimated that he has caught more than 100 sharks from the beach. There is no better thrill than the buzz of his fishing line in the late hours of the night, he said.
“Time stands still for a second,” Lewis said. “It’s pure adrenaline.”
Lewis tries to fish at Venice Beach at least once a week, he said.
Lewis said he sees no problem banning chum. He uses bloody fish like Spanish mackerel to bait his sharks, he said. The largest shark he ever caught was a 9-foot bull shark, 100 feet from the shore.
Lewis said is concerned how the ban will be enforced. He asked what might happen if he throws a filleted fish into the ocean he had no intention to keep.
“Will that count as chumming?” Lewis asked. “It’s pretty unclear.”
The director of the Center for Shark Research at the Sarasota-based Mote Marine Laboratory, Robert Hueter, said the chumming ban could have a noticeable impact on shark populations in Florida. While the change won’t happen overnight, populations should benefit over time, he said.
Hueter said it’s a myth that sharks can smell a drop of blood from a mile away, but large amounts of chum in a small area can attract a shark’s attention.
“There’s so much social media attention on this kind of fishing. Everybody drags the sharks up on the beach and gets a picture posted on Instagram or Facebook or wherever,” Hueter said. “It’s causing the education of the masses about shark conservation to run in the wrong direction.”
This story was produced by Fresh Take Florida, a news service of the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications.