Rec fishing impact on sharks under the microscope

SHE studies sharks and is committed to the cause of involving recreational fishers in fisheries science. Her name is Fernanda de Faria, and she has just completed her Masters of Environmental Sciences at James Cook University, Townsville.

Fernanda’s project came about as an investigation into whether recreational fishers in the Great Barrier Reef region were impacting on shark populations. Fisheries Queensland had previously estimated that the recreational catch of sharks and rays was approaching that of the commercial haul.

Fernanda’s investigations led her to call up charter operators for permission to go aboard and both identify and sample any sharks that were caught. She also engaged with local fishing clubs, making presentations to them to gain their support and hand out sample kits so that the local anglers could help her out with photographs for identification and fin clips for DNA analysis. She felt very strongly about the fact that this was the only way to get a truly representative sample of the sharks that recreational anglers were catching.

Fernanda’s research confirmed that, since most the sharks being caught by anglers in northern Queensland are considered undesirable by-catch, a very high proportion is released. Then, by sampling sharks’ blood lactate levels, she concluded that the overall stress induced by catch-and-release was also very unlikely to compromise the sharks’ survival.

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Researcher Fernanda de Faria (left) at work taking blood samples and measuring a freshly caught shark.

“It’s important to remember though that these sharks aren’t being deliberately targeted or fought for extended periods” She qualifies.
“The results wouldn’t be the same if anglers were deliberately targeting sharks or started targeting them with lighter gear”.

To make sure the sharks were surviving, she also tagged two hammerhead sharks using ‘pingers’ so their progress could be followed around Cleveland Bay, Townsville. Fernanda warned that: “It’s important to recognise that 80 per cent of the species being caught by recreational anglers overlapped with those being targeted by inshore commercial shark fishermen, so if the culture changes, and recreational anglers decide to start targeting and keeping sharks, then there could be some major implications for the management of shark take”.

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Swimming a tagged greater hammerhead before release.

When asked about some of her best experiences during her field work she recalls “There was a trip out of Mackay, a week-long trip with a really cool bunch of guys from the Gold Coast and Sydney who were up for their annual fishing trip”. “They fully embraced participating, calling me over quickly when they caught a shark, holding it for me while I got my samples – it was really great to see their change in behaviour and that was a really special trip for me” she said.
“By the end, they’d given me a certificate (biggest shark landed), and even made a song up for me” she related. When asked what the song was Fernanda shyly said “Oh … It was based on the shark-bait song from Finding Nemo – It went something like: Shark Lady, ooh hah hah…and Shark Lady, Ooh Lah Lah”.

“I’m currently working as a research assistant helping students with their field work, but in the future, I hope to work for a management agency, and I’d definitely love to still be linked to the recreational fishing community” said Fernanda.

In summary the study basically concluded that the capture of sharks as by-catch in the Great Barrier Reef region was found to have had no significant impact on shark populations in the area. That is not to say things wouldn’t change if recreational fishers were to start specifically targeting and retaining sharks.

Owen Li is a PhD candidate at James Cook University, Townsville. He is currently studying the communication of science to fisheries stakeholders and is an angling fanatic – See picture below of the author with a 6kg fly-caught golden trevvally.

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