Sharks and rays are important members of the ecosystem. Unlike many fish that lay thousands of eggs, the reproduction rate of sharks and rays are very low, with a few births at a time.
It is recommended to release sharks and rays in general, here are our recommended best practices. By using the suggested guidelines, particularly related to handling, injuries will be much reduced which will improve the chance that released animals will survive.
Proper method of release when you hook up a stingray or shark
For release, ideally remove the hook!
• You may use various de-hooking tools to do so and this is much simpler if using barbless hooks
• Alternatively cut the hook with bolt cutters.
• If you need to bring a stingray or shark out of the water, support it horizontally as best as possible (e.g., with a net or shallow tray) rather than leaving it hanging or flipping it upside down. Sharks and rays lack ribcages and internal organs may be damaged otherwise.
• Do not insert fingers in the spiracles. This can cause damage to gills and associated structures.
• If the animal is brought out of the water, the barb and the tail can be immobilised with the net or a thick cloth such as a heavy towel or similar etc.
• Wear gloves at all times when handling. Heavyweight gloves such as welding gloves can be useful to have on board a boat but are not impenetrable.
If due to safety concerns (e.g. you have caught a large animal) you do not have the capacity to remove the hook, then cut the line as close as possible to the eye of the hook.
• If the hook is of a non-stainless variety it will corrode relatively quickly.
• If the animal is mouth hooked, some species of stingrays have been found to shed hooks relatively quickly (within days).
Suggested protocol for catch and release of rays and sharks
1. Use carbon or mild steel hooks (not stainless steel) with minimal protective coating. This way if you lose the shark before it is landed the hook will rust out within a few weeks.
2. Use single barbless circle hooks. If your hooks are not barbless, flatten the barb with a pair of pliers.
3. Use a hook remover. If the fish has swallowed the hook, do not attempt to pull it out – this will cause serious damage and compromise the survival. Cut the line as close to the hook as possible if you are unable to remove the hook.
4. Avoid using a gaff. Instead of gaffing, reel the shark in as close as possible and use a stretcher to carry the shark to shore. Whatever you do – do it quickly!
5. FIGHT TIME: The longer the fight time, the longer it will take for your shark to recover. Sharks suffer lactic acid and carbon dioxide build-up in their blood and muscles, similar to how your muscles stiffen after a good work-out. Use heavy tackle to minimize fight time.
6. AIR EXPOSURE: Work as fast as possible once the shark is on the beach. Imagine someone putting a plastic bag over your head after you have run a marathon and are gasping for breath – this may be close to how the shark is feeling.
7. HOOK LOCATION: Strike quickly to ensure the hook attaches in the corner of the sharks mouth and does not swallow your bait. If the shark is gut hooked, do not attempt to pull/tear remove the hook. Cut the line as close to the hook as possible.
8. ORGAN INJURY: Sharks do not have a rigid skeleton preventing their organs from being crushed by their body weight while out of water. Work with the shark in the shallows if possible.
9. LINE ENTANGLEMENT: Keep your trace tight to avoid the shark getting entangled in your fishing line.
10. HANDLING: Do not drag the shark over the rocks or sand. Never pull a shark by the tail or pick it up by the gill slits or spiracles (modified gill slit behind the eyes prominent in skates and rays). Larger sharks will require two people restrain and carry the animal. One person to restrain and support the tail area and the other to carry the shark with a tight grip from behind the pectoral fins. If possible use a stretcher to carry the shark back into the water.
If your released shark appears to be swimming erratically, lies motionless on the bottom or swims back to shore, some revival assistance may be required. Hold the shark upright in the water facing into the current. Continue to hold the shark until it swims away strongly.
REMEMBER: HEALTHY SHARKS MEAN HEALTHY OCEANS!