When images of a dead 600-pound tiger shark hanging on an Alabama dock hit social media this summer, some people reacted with horrified dismay.
But others applauded the Alabama Deep Sea Fishing Rodeo for reviving the shark hunting category after a seven-year hiatus.
They say that once declining shark populations have rebounded to the extent the apex predators threaten to become a nuisance fish if they are not hunted and fished in turn.
“It’s all about who you ask. Which is a weird thing to say in science,” says Northeastern University Ph.D. student Evan Prasky.
It’s his job to help federal agencies sort fact from fiction in order to develop policies that protect the ecosystem and promote the long-term sustainability of the fishing industry and fishing stocks in the Gulf of Mexico.
The goal is to quantify the amount of fish caught by fishermen that end up being wholly or partially consumed by sharks, a practice known as depredation, to determine whether anglers need to change their behavior or whether it’s okay to hunt certain shark species, Prasky says.
Working under advisers Steven Scyphers at Northeastern and Marcus Drymon at Mississippi State University on behalf of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, Prasky surveyed 1,000 recreational fishermen in Florida, Alabama, Mississippi, Louisiana and Texas about their interactions with sharks and what role sharks play in fish depredation.
“The results are kind of interesting,” says Prasky, who also conducted in-person interviews of fishermen coming off their boats during the Alabama Deep Sea Fishing Rodeo in July.
Recreational fishermen who head out once or twice a year are thrilled by the sight of a shark, even if it’s grabbing their fish off the line.
“You are watching one of the greatest spectacles in nature unfold in front of you,” Prasky says.
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Photo by Matthew Modoono/Northeastern University