Friday, November 29, 2013

Video of Tiger Shark Gaffed Multiple Times Sparks Question About Gaff and Release

Tiger shark with gaffed wound
Should a fisherman use a gaff on a shark they plan on releasing? That question came to mind after viewing the below video of a tiger shark caught off Virginia Beach, Virginia. The video was posted on November 20, 2013 and shows what appears to be a juvenile tiger shark being gaffed multiple times after being pulled next to the boat.

As the angler gets the shark next to the boat, you hear a man (who I assume is the captain) giving commands to a man holding a gaff. The captain tells him, "Get its head out of the water before you do anything...right in its mouth."

The gaffer misses the mouth and instead gaffs it in the lower jaw.  As he struggles to control the shark, we hear the captain state, "everybody got a picture?  You can probably cut it (the line)."

Tiger shark is gaffed and later released
At this point the shark shakes the gaff loose and tears a large portion of skin from its lower jaw. The gaffer attempts several more times to gaff it in the mouth and then we hear someone yell 'hook em." He then swings the gaff into the shark's lower jaw and moments later, exhaustively states, "everybody see?"

At this point the video cuts off.  Based on the earlier comments from the captain, we can assume that the line/leader was cut and the shark was released.  But will it survive?

We wondered if it was an acceptable practice to gaff a shark when you planned on releasing it?  To start, we checked out what the NOAA Fisheries Service had to say about the subject.  They have a list of best practices for shark fishing on a page titled, "How to Maximize Shark Survivability"

They offer several best practices from using non off-set circle hooks to minimizing fight times.  On the second bullet, they discuss minimizing physically handling the shark.  Here's the entire bullet exactly as it is posted which includes the parts that they emphasized with bold:
Minimize physical handling. Treat the fish as gently as possible; do not sit on them or hold their mouths open for pictures. Avoid dragging the fish on dry sand or on a boat deck; if they must be moved, try using a tarp. Do not grip the shark over the gills as they are easily damaged. Remember: sharks do not have bones to protect their internal organs the way we do; the larger the fish, the more prone it is to internal injury. Placing a towel soaked in seawater over the eyes may help pacify the shark. Never gaff a shark you plan on releasing!
We looked further to see what some recreational shark fisherman had to say about the practice of gaffing.

On the fishing forum "The Hull Truth" we looked at a thread titled "Do you gaff and release sharks?"

In short, the majority felt that one should not gaff a shark that they planned on releasing.  Here are a few select comments:

Danattherock: "Man, I am surprised that this is normal behavior for anyone. If you don't have more respect for a fish than to jam a gaff through it and then "let it go" you don't need to be fishing in the first place." He adds, "Anyone that will gaff a fish that is to be released should go bowling or play golf."

emaymiami: "Anyone that gaffs a fish they don't intend to kill is just plain ignorant, it's that simple." "Every time I see someone do that sort of stuff for the benefit of the cameras it turns me off and gives the anti-fishing crowd something else to beat us up with. There's just no excuse for that kind of behavior."

andrewuk311: "If you throw a bloody shark back into the water, he will be 'shark bait'."

Sea Balz: "F...... No......How Dumb, you gaff it, you kill it!!"

On the other side of the debate, we had these comments:

nighttrain13: "Ive seen quite a few charter captians do it, but hey its their boat."

Stumblefish: "I'm sure the mouth area of a shark is pretty safe the gaf is just a big hook (it is even barb-less lol)." Reel Sh*t: "I shark fish pretty regurlarly and like stated above, anything 4-5 feet I'll stick a gaff hook in the mouth to try and get control of the fish...does it killl the fish? I dont think or didnt think it does unless I put the gaff through its head or gills. I typically try and put the gaff in through the mouth and out the corner of the jaw."

joemat: "Actually, a gaff to the lower jaw of a shark is not harmful if you must. Like the others however, I do not gaff a shark I intend to release. I have a pair of long handle bolt cutters that I use when my ARC dehooker doesn't work."

In another message board, members from the Sealine forum had plenty to say in a thread titled "Using a gaff for sharks" which primarily centered on fishermen who catch sharks from the beach or from rocky ledges.

That thread gathered 80 posts and it appeared rather evenly split as to whether a gaff should be used.

As in The Hull Truth forum, the ones opposed felt that a gaffing was unnecessary and could do significant harm to the shark.

The ones in favor felt that it was often a necessary tool to control the shark.  But within that group, some pointed out that a person who does use a gaff has to know what they are doing otherwise they could do significant harm to the shark.

There was also some discussion as to whether a shark should be gaffed in the meaty portion of the lower dorsal fin or in the lower jaw. Others pointed out that one should always try to gaff the shark in the mouth which duplicates the experience of being hooked in the mouth by a fishing hook.

Overall, it would appear that most fishermen agree with NOAA that a shark should not be gaffed if it is to be released. And looking at this issue from a common sense point of view, it just makes sense that if you limit the number of puncture wounds, the better chance the shark has for recovery.  Which brings us back to the below video; would the shark have stood a better chance of survival if the leader had just been cut before the gaffing started?  I think that answer is quite clear.

If you have an opinion, feel free to weigh in on our FB page.

Video posted by Mark Cavallaro and is 1:18 in length.  CAUTION: Some may find this disturbing.
Above photos are video screenshots.