Mike Gerken: Evolution Underwater Imaging | Jan 3, 2012 - The Ultimate Shark Challenge

Jan 3, 2012 - The Ultimate Shark Challenge

December 31, 2011  •  Leave a Comment
Photo of the Week.
Sand Tiger Sharks on the buoy deck of the USCG Cutter Spar.
A Few Words First

      I have experienced some pretty exciting New Years Eve's in the past such as, four back to back trips in to Times Square, NY and a millennium party in the bush of Mozambique. This year, I got to experience my first New Years Eve in Southern Style.  A good friend of Annette and I invited us to her small farm house outside of Beaufort, NC. It was here were we met some great down to earth people and celebrated till the wee hours of the morning. The food was all potluck and included some traditional items such as fried collard greens, black eyed peas and grilled local oysters which we was washed down with plenty of good beer and wine. Pretty soon the  fireworks were pulled out and then the evening really got going.  At first I stood back so not to accidentally get singed or blown up with low flying ordinace, but then I lapsed in to a state of regression therapy and jumped right in shooting rockets off like a teenager. As this was going on a couple of guys decided to take the farm tractor out for a spin driving in circles around the massive fire pit that was keeping us all warm through the night. After nearly running a few lawn chairs over the tractor drivers came to their senses and shut it down.  After a few more hours of eating oysters, drinking a few beers and shooting off more fireworks, midnight arrived but with little fan fare. Someone looked at their watch and said it was midnight, we all said Happy New Year and then I went back to being intrigued with the pyrotechnics and shot off more rockets. By the end of the night, after probably becoming fed up, one of the dogs evolved into a more intelligent species than us humans and decided to disappear for the rest of the night. We looked with flashlights for an hour or so but we all knew this dog did not want to be found. At sunup, the owner awoke to have another look for her beloved pet and no sooner than she opened the door, their he was traipsing through the field and back in to the house were all us humans sat, mulling over a great evening and readying ourselves for 2012. 

     I for one am extremely optimistic about this coming year. Let's just call it a hunch, but I suspect the dismal economy that has plagued us for more than three years will improve, unemployment rates will decrease and housing prices stabilize. When this happens people will be able to return to doing what they love to do in their spare time. To be more specific they will have more time and money to GO DIVING! I for one am weary of digging through my couch cushions looking for spare change to apply towards my photography habit and look forward to a prosperous year of diving in the lap of luxury with some new camera gear. Before any of you dismiss what I'm saying with your negative energy just remember that positive thinking is a powerful entity, so join me in my desire for a grand year of diving and it will come to fruition. 

All the best to you in 2012!

The Ultimate Shark Challenge
        Not too long ago I heard some guys talking on the boat I captain, the Midnight Express with Olympus Dive Center, about a shark tournament, where all the sharks were released alive after caught and measured. This has not been the standard in most shark fishing contests since the sharks were brought back to the dock for weighing, photos and bragging rights, so I decided to do a little research on the net and find out what this was about. Sure enough, I discovered a new style of tournament where no sharks are landed or killed. I'm not a supporter of fishing tournaments that land fish for the sake of prize money, but I do understand there economic significance. This new style of tournament could change the industry.
     Catch and release sport fishing tournaments, both fresh and salt water, have been around for more than three decades. The rules of these tournaments are varied from one to the next but the general policy is just like it sounds. You catch a fish, keep it alive, weigh and measure it and then release it, hopefully, while it is still alive. The angler with the biggest and/or most fish caught has the chance winning a cash prize and prestige that goes along with it. The purses for such tournaments can run in to the hundreds of thousands of dollars. These catch and release practices were established by the sport fishing industry as an attempt to conserve fish stocks for a more sustainable long term industry that is vital to our economy. How vital? It is estimated, by the American Sportfishing Association, that as of 2011, there is $125 billion worth in economic output and more than one million American jobs in the recreational sport fishing industry alone.  That's bigger than IBM.  These tournaments, that are an integral part of the industry, are here to stay wether you like them or not.
         There are catch and release tournaments for dozens of different fish species from fresh water bass to the pelagic ocean going marlin and of course sharks. It is not possible to keep large bill fish alive for the weighing process, so only a select few are actually landed in the hopes of a prize while most are released. There is not much of a commercial fishing market for billfish in the US so the landed fish that are brought to shore for the weigh-in are either donated to marine science research or tossed out in to the trash. The killing of even a few fish, is of course not ideal, but it is a vast improvement from past practices where every fish was landed, returned to shore and tossed in to a dumpster regardless if it would yield a prize. (This article doesn't discuss the negative effects of by-catch in the commerical fishing industry but it's shortcomings are recognized.)
        Shark tournaments have also been widely popular in sport fishing in the US as in the rest of the world, but have not been given the same respect as bill fish or other fresh water species of game fish.  Sharks have been seen as enemy number one in the oceans and are caught and landed with impunity even if the angler intends to consume it or not. It is not uncommon at marinas to see a sport fisherman proudly posing next to a shark with its rows of razor sharp teeth highlighted. Once the photo is taken and the jaw removed for posterity the sharks that are not edible are tossed out with the trash. For that matter many of the edible ones are also tossed out as well. These tournaments are not about catching sustenance but are all about ego and cash prizes that show contempt for sharks and teach nothing about how vital they are to the overall marine ecosystem. After all, an ocean without sharks will inevitably harm humans by disrupting the natural order in the food chain and diminish food stocks that are already suffering today.
     With the growing worldwide movement in marine and shark conservation, wasteful sport fishing practices such as these are drawing a lot of negative criticism from environmentalists, scientists and the general public alike. There is hope though for saving sharks and the billion dollar industry they are a part of with a new type of tournament. Famed angler, artists and conservationist, Guy Harvey, founder of the Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation has introduced a novel catch and release shark tournament, the Guy Harvey Ultimate Shark Challenge, founded  in 2009. Prizes are rewarded to the angler(s) who score points based on the length and variety of shark species caught, but not the weight. No shark is permitted to leave the water at any time and all must be released alive. In addition, many of the sharks are tagged with the hope of yielding valuable scientific data. (Read more about the tournament rules here.) So far, this tournament has been well received by environmentalists, anglers and scientists alike for combining the goals of sport, science and conservation. I encourage you to read more about Guy Harvey, his work and this tournament in particular at the links provided. The job of maintaining and protecting our environment is a complex one that will need continued innovation and cooperation to be successful in the future. Guy Harvey's ground breaking shark tournament is just one step of many in the right direction towards these goals.
         If you have insight or an opinion you would like to contribute on  tournament fishing and shark conservation, I encourage you to leave a comment or contact me to share this information. Thank you.



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