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‘Bloodbaiting’ and circle hooks: What regulations are there for shark fishing in Alabama 3/17/2023 John Sharp,

The great white shark is the largest of predatory fishes in the water, with an iconic legacy that sends fear and respect in coastal areas where they swim.

They are also protected by the federal government, meaning any great white shark fished out of the waters in the United States must be set free.

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Other regulations also exist, including approximately 15-year-old state laws that prohibit “chumming” or “bloodbaiting” aimed at tossing fish carcasses into the water in hopes of luring sharks toward shore.

“Since we created the regulation, we generally haven’t had a problem with it,” said Scott Bannon, director of the Marine Resources Division with the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources. “We’ll sometimes receive a call that people are targeting sharks. But often when we have a conversation with someone who is reporting it, we will tell them they are following the rules and that people catching fish does not lead to shark bites.”

He added, “We have not had any negative feedback other than concerns from people who don’t understand shark behavior.”

Video: Watch the first great white shark caught in Alabama

Attention about the rules and regulations of shark fishing has increased in recent days after what is believed to be the first great white shark was fished out of Alabama waters from a beach on March 7.

The rare catch was documented by an early morning fishing party in Orange Beach. It included two experienced and skilled shark fishermen who own their own land-based shark fishing business in Pensacola.

“The great white thing has been a great story,” Bannon said. “I think most people have been excited about it.”

Protected species

The anglers who caught the fish were able to have it safely released after taking a few pictures that led to a confirmation that it was a great white shark.

It would have been a violation of federal law had the fishing party kept the shark.

The great white shark is considered a “prohibited species,” in all U.S. waters and fisheries, which means absolutely no retention is allowed. The shark is also protected internationally and considered as one of the most widely protected shark species globally.

Marcus Drymon, assistant extension professor at Mississippi State University – and a Gulf of Mexico shark expert – said that sharks in the U.S. Atlantic are managed generally by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) Fisheries through the Highly Migratory Species (HMS) division.

The division, Drymon said, sets rules and regulations for sharks in federal waters. And most states simply adopt the HMS rules within their state waters that are typically 3 to 9 miles from the shore.

“This is basically what Alabama does, and they provide a few additional rules (like restrictions on chumming),” said Drymon.

Chumming and hooks

Bannon said the prohibition on chumming means people who fish for sharks cannot toss fish parts or the bloody remains from cleaned fish into the water near a shoreline.

“It unnecessarily draws things like sharks closer to the shoreline than specifically targeting them with bait from shore,” Bannon said.

He said he cannot recall anyone cited for baiting shark with blood or fish parts. A fine would cost around $400.

“To be honest with you, we have not issued one,” he said. “Once we educate an angler (that they should not chum or bloodbait near a shoreline), it is not an issue. People are very understanding.”

Alabama law also mirrors federal restrictions in the type of hooks used to bait sharks. Anglers fishing for sharks must use “non-offset, non-stainless circle hooks when using natural bait,” according to Alabama state law. This means that any hook with two or more points are forbidden.

“It’s a federal regulation we adopted,” Bannon said. “The non-offset hooks allow you to remove it easily. The hook would degrade if it’s stainless and would stay embedded in that shark forever.”

Alabama law does not set a time for shark fishing, though it typically occurs during early hours of the morning, or at dusk – typically when fewer people are swimming in the Gulf of Mexico.

“A lot of these guys will target sharks at night or during the feeding times at pre-dawn and at dusk, when generally there are no swimmers,” Bannon said. “We don’t have specific hours. We just ask people pay attention to other activities. If there are people swimming, move down the beach a little bit. It generally doesn’t have to be far.”

Bannon said he does not see the need to set a specific shark fishing time near shorelines.

“In Alabama, things are generally legal until we say they are not,” Bannon said. “What we try not to do is provide knee-jerk reactions to an event. We are very aware of trying not to overregulate things and we do not have a lot of regulations.”

Future outlook

Bannon said he will not be surprised to see more great white shark catches in the future, recognizing the rise of technology that tracks the sharks. Before the catch in Orange Beach, a 13-foot great white shark was caught on February 12 from shore-based fishermen in Pensacola Beach.

“With increased effort from anglers, you will see an increase in the possibilities of encountering species that you might not otherwise encounter,” Bannon said. “But the environmental conditions have to line up. It’s still a relatively unique and rare experience.”

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