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Vol 47 | Num 8 | Jun 22, 2022

The Offshore Report Ocean City Report Delaware Report Virginia Report Ship to Shore Chum Lines The Galley Issue Photos
Chum Lines

Article by Capt. Mark Sampson

Last summer I received an email from a fellow who had heard that we were involved in some shark research stuff, and also about the educational component of our charter trips. He said that his daughter was showing interest in becoming a marine biologist and thought that it might be a good experience for her to join us on one of our trips to learn more about sharks by observing and possibly assisting with some of the data collection, tagging, and other procedures we do with them.

All of that I've heard before as we are often joined on the boat by upcoming or current biology students, teachers, researchers, and a smattering of my fellow "shark-head" friends who are just crazy about the predators. What I hadn't heard before was the rest of his message stating that he and his little girl were not interested in fishing for sharks, the two of them just wanted to go out to observe and tag some sharks. He stated that, "My daughter doesn't want to catch or hurt the sharks, she just wants to observe them and help with the research".

I'm still not sure what exactly he thinks we do aboard the Fish Finder, but from his email I concluded that it was his impression that we go out on the ocean and do our research procedures with sharks that are happily swimming around the boat. Not wanting the man or his daughter to come out with us on the boat and then be "traumatized" by what they might see, I made it clear to him that in order to tag, measure, and do any other procedures we do with sharks, we must first fish for and catch them on rod and reel. "Fishing," I said, "is the biggest part of what we do. We can't do anything with the sharks unless we catch them first, and in the process there's going to be some unhappy sharks and sometimes a little blood on the deck. There's no getting around it, that's just the way it is."

I never heard back from the fellow. Hopefully, if his daughter really does decide to pursue a career in marine research she'll come to terms with the fact that there's a lot more to it than simply watching fish. The exchange also had me wondering how many other folks are a bit confused about what exactly we do aboard the Fish Finder each season, so I thought I'd lay it out here.

First of all, we're a six-passenger charter boat that takes anglers fishing for different types of fish, but in the 36 years we've been doing this our specialty has always been sharks, so shark fishing is our most requested trip and comprises about 95% of what we do. Because we spend so much time chasing, catching, and handling sharks, we get a lot of requests from various researchers and marine managers to assist them in their work and studies by collecting data, taking samples, tagging, performing procedures, designing specialized tackle and equipment and consultation.

Between late May and the middle of October we'll typically run well over a hundred shark charters that provide opportunities for our clients to have fun catching and learning about the sharks while also observing and assisting with the various research tasks and procedures we do. So by chartering the boat our clients are essentially helping to sponsor shark research projects. Some of these projects are ongoing and we’ve been assisting with them for many years, others have occurred over just one season, some have worked out just as the researchers hoped they would and others ended up being a flop. For us, being able to participate in these various projects has been fun, interesting, sometimes a little frustrating but always rewarding. Of course we’ve learned a lot along the way and now take great pleasure in sharing what we've come to know about sharks with just about anyone willing to listen.

Some of the cool projects we’ve been able to assist with includes putting satellite transmitters (SPOT tags) and pop-up tags on makos, hammerheads, threshers, sandbars and blue sharks, putting acoustic tags inside the body cavity of spinner and dusky sharks, developing and testing tools, tackle, and equipment that allow fishermen to catch, boat, and release sharks in ways that are safe for both fish and fishermen. We’ve also assisted in hook studies to determine the effectiveness of different types of hooks used for sharks. The results of one of these studies played an important role in the implementation of a regulation that now requires all shark fishermen to use circle hooks when targeting sharks. We’ve collected small fin clippings for DNA studies, tissue samples for heavy-metal analysis, blood and brain samples (for whatever they do with blood and brains), and stomach contents for folks studying shark diets.

We’re now over a month into this year’s shark season and hope to keep at it at least until the middle of October. This year we hoped to get some transmitters on mako sharks, but the early season weather during the prime mako period kept us in port too much, so it’s not looking like we’ll get any SPOT tags out this season. We will, however, continue to tag with the conventional NOAA tags, and those sharks will also be injected with an antibiotic that will stain their vertebrae and assist scientists with an ongoing age and growth study on sharks. Any blacktip sharks we catch this year are getting special attention as we are involved with a new study of that species by some researchers who are trying to learn about the differences between the blacktips we catch here in the mid-Atlantic and those found in South Florida and the Gulf of Mexico.
This season we are continuing with our own project to develop the best terminal tackle to prevent the deep (gut) hooking of sand tiger sharks. Sand tigers are a protected species that due to their physiology and feeding habits are very often hooked deep and sometimes die after release - we’re trying to find a way to minimize that. As we have done for many years, we will continue to record data on every shark we catch which includes such details as species, location, time of day, water temperature, three different measurements, sex, type of hook, location of hook, depth caught, type of bait, condition of shark, and other details that researchers might find useful. The data is provided to state, federal fisheries and different researchers who might have use for them.

With the season still being a bit young, most fishermen are probably both hopeful and excited at the prospects of what might be in store for them. Huge tuna, limits of sea bass, carpet-size flounder, giant marlin, so much to look forward to blended with so much uncertainty! Just like everyone else, even though most of what we do is chase sharks, I too feel the excitement this time of the year of both knowing and not knowing what the months ahead will bring. We’ll have days when we have “scary-big” sharks around the boat, and days when we never see a fin. No matter what kind of fish you pursue (even sharks) fish’n is fish’n - nothing is guaranteed. I’m just hoping that when the season is done we’ll have happy clients, content researchers, a bunch of sharks that have been only “temporarily inconvenienced”, and perhaps a slight smattering of blood on the deck. There's no getting around it, that's just the way it is!§

Coastal Fisherman Merch
CF Merch



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