New Fishing Rules Aim To Protect Sharks

There are more than 520 shark species worldwide. Many of them are protected and have to be released back to the ocean if caught.

For Harom Acosta, fishing is more than just a hobby.

"I've been fishing since I was little," said the South Florida fisherman who lures thousands of views on his YouTube channel.  

But Acosta and other shark anglers now have new state rules to follow.

"I don't want to get in trouble with the FWC (Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission)," Acosta told NBC 6 right before he caught a barracuda.

If it had been a shark, the fisherman says it may have to be released back in the water.

There are more than 520 shark species worldwide. Many of them are protected and have to be released back to the ocean if caught.

Under the new state law, shark anglers are required to get a special, free permit from the FWC that includes learning more about sharks and their habits.

"They're good for the shark," said Acosta, who is a permit holder, referring to the new rules. "The prohibited sharks are going to survive a lot better."

The shore-based shark fishing rules were implemented early July as a way to protect both people and sharks.

NBC 6 Investigator Willard Shepard went on a shark tour outside of Florida waters and saw first-hand the challenges facing sharks.

There was a dusky shark - that had been caught and released - carrying a hook in his mouth with the fishing line trailing along. Another shark had a hook embedded in a fin.

The dusky sharks are protected species and have to be released if caught. Their population is a fraction of what it was not even 50 years ago.

John Moore, the shark tour's guide, worries about fishermen using the type of hooks we saw in the dusky sharks.

"It's a double hook rig," he said. "They will hook random spots on the body and just slowly tear them apart."

Multiple hook rigs are not allowed in Florida for shark fishing either in the water or on the shore. It's one of the changes required by the state. Another is requiring fishermen like Acosta to have tools to either remove hooks or cut the line.

Dr. Neil Hammerschlag is the director of the University of Miami's Shark Research and Conservation program.

"There's new data that's coming out just showing that one, some species are very fragile and won't survive the catch and release scenario," Hammerschlag said.

Hammerschlag credits the action taken by the state but says more needs to be known about the impact people have on sharks.

His biggest concern is that natural food sources for sharks are drying up.

"We're definitely seeing a shortage of shark food in the water," Hammerschlag said. "The prey items that make for great shark food, the big snappers, groupers, those species are pretty heavily fished - their numbers are certainly dwindling."

Hammerschlag says that means sharks have to alter their behavior and spend more time looking for their natural diet or start eating other things.

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