OCEAN CITY, Md. (AP) -- New regulations nearly doubling the minimum size for sharks are expected to have a big impact on the local fishing industry if passed as proposed.
Several recreational and commercial fishermen shared their thoughts on the proposed changes -- which would increase the minimum shark size requirement from 54 inches to 96 inches -- with NOAA Fisheries representatives.
"This is pretty much going to eliminate the retention of the recreationaly caught shark," said Mark Sampson, captain of the Fish Finder and director of the Ocean City Shark Tournament.
The proposed regulations are designed to help protect the dusky shark, whose numbers have continued to decline even though their capture has been prohibited since 2000, according to Karyl Brewster-Geisz, a fishery manager for NOAA.
A NOAA stock assessment shows the need for a two-third reduction in fishing mortality, according to NOAA's Mike Clark.
Almost 13 years of the most strict management policy and we still get results that it's not enough," Clark said. "That's the onus behind a lot of the (proposed) measures."
Clark said the average size for a mature dusky shark was 93 inches, so researchers had rounded up and come up with the 96-inch minimum for all sharks, meaning threshers, makos and the like would also have to be that large before they could be caught. Increasing the minimum size is expected to mean 854 fewer interactions with dusky sharks.
"If we stop the interactions we can stop the mortality," Clark said.
Fishermen in attendance were critical of NOAA's data, much of which involved estimates.
"You used to catch a lot and now you're not catching as many," Brewster-Geisz said.
Attendees pointed out that they weren't allowed to catch the dusky sharks. One man compared the blanket size restriction to telling anglers the minimum was the same for all species of fish.
"But interactions still occur when people are targeting different things," Clark said.
Sampson said that much of the data NOAA had on the sharks came from fishermen's own logbooks. Those in the audience were quick to admit that they often marked that they'd seen a dusky even if they were sure the shark had actually been one.
"Misidentification is the culprit here," said Merrill Campbell of Southern Connection Seafood, recalling how 20 years ago sharks that were roughly the color and size of a dusky were labeled as such. "We didn't know any better."
"Shark identification is a huge issue," he said. "You know your numbers are bad, we know your numbers are bad. We've got to get anglers up to speed on identification so we can generate good catch data."
Charter captain Brian Wazlavek had similar comments. He suggested an online shark identification test be required when fishermen applied for their license. He also recommended NOAA continue its research before instituting the drastic regulation changes.
"There needs to be more study on the economic impact," he said.
Sampson had similar sentiments. He said it was not often that anglers brought in an 8-foot shark, even in tournaments.
"That's just so big," he said. "It'll put an end to recreational shark tournaments. The economic impact is going to be pretty severe."
Campbell criticized the 96-inch limit when NOAA's own literature said the sharks were mature at 93 inches.
"You use science when you want to and then take a liberty here," he said. "If this evidence was used in a court of law, the judge would throw it out. Good management cannot be based on bogus numbers."
Clark and Brewster-Geisz encouraged fishermen to continue to share their comments on the proposed changes until Feb. 12.
The new regulations are expected to take effect in April.