My good fishing buddy posted some photos from his two-day boat fishing trip. One of the typical grip-and-grin photos showed him with the porbeagle shark (Lamna nasus). This made me envious. As a compulsive-obsessive shark angler, I chased these sharks for many years. I was only successful once and the specimen I caught was very young and rather small. To me, it didn’t really count. So this species of sharks is still on my to-do, or more precisely, my to-catch list.
But here lies the issue and the reason why it is such a big deal to catch one of these sharks. After long years of exploitation and unregulated fishing their population collapsed. Now they are incredibly scarce and, although in recent years there seems to be an increase in catches and sightings, it isn’t clear if it is an indication of a recovering population or just a shift in distribution. Regardless, they are still firmly listed as critically endangered in the Northeast Atlantic where most of our angling activities take place. This obviously poses some problems and rather uncomfortable questions.
Those of you who are following me might even remember that just a few days before my friend’s fishing trip, an officer of one of the environmental NGOs expressed his irritation after another angler posted a video of himself landing a skate. Another species of critically endangered fish. That sparked an interesting discussion related to scientific tagging programmes that, by their very nature, require these rare and endangered fish to be caught, boated, tagged and then released.
In this blog, it is not my intention to defend or condemn anyone’s position. As always these situations are complex and there are many factors to consider. For example, is there a landing platform, how quickly is the fish unhooked, and how promptly is it returned to the water? They almost have to be taken on a case by case basis. Instead, I want to share some of my thoughts. I started to ask myself what I would do in my friend’s shoes. Would I pose for a grip-and-grin photo and point out the benefits of a tagging programme? Likely. Would I point fingers at past exploitation by commercial fishermen and contrast it with the negligible impact that anglers have on the shark population? Probably. I have done all of the above before.
Unfortunately, we have to face up to the reality that without changes in the current status-quo, we either run out of fish to catch, some species sooner than others, or we run out of the fish species we are allowed to catch. Most of us anglers talk a lot about the conservation of fish stocks. But do we have the guts to put our money where our mouth is? We talk a lot about fish welfare and the importance of catch & release. But do we have the resolve to not target certain species of fish, even if it’s legal? And would it even matter? Perhaps, the loss of some species is inevitable and the only approach that makes sense is, catch them while you can. Because soon enough they’ll be gone. Forever.
Let me know your thoughts in the comment section down below or on one of my social media pages.