He’s Getting a Little Something Different Instead
By Mark S. McDonald
It’s only been a week since we posted a glowing report on the tag/release fish tracking program underway at the Center for Sportfish Science and Conservation. A team of marine biologists has been capturing giant sharks, fitting them with a special GPS device to learn where the fish travel and how to protect them.
Less than 48 hours after my post, an angler hooks a 12-foot, 7-inch tiger shark in the Gulf, fights it for 7-8 hours, then drags the exhausted creature 12 miles to the dock.
There, still gasping its last breaths, the fish is strung up by its neck for all to see. Local TV station, KIII in Corpus Christi, ever eager to film the next train wreck, shows up to shoot footage for the evening newscast.
Seventy-five pounds of meat is donated to feed the homeless. But what of the remaining 734-plus pounds from the 809-pound creature?
Such a pitiful waste. And not just of the meat.
It’s no secret that scientists are concerned about shark populations they say are declining due to overfishing and commercial trade in shark fin products.
Doing their part, marine biologists at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, Dr. Greg Stunz and colleague Dr. Matt Ajemian, have built a team looking for ways to save big sharks. They go to great pains to handle their catches with care – a far cry from pulling a fish from the deep, killing it and putting the carcass on display for the gawking public.
At no small expense for manpower and equipment — thanks in part to donations from sportsmen in local chapters of the Houston-based Coastal Conservation Association – the team has tagged and released more than 1,200 fish in a scientific campaign to learn where sharks travel and when.
This sorry episode represents more than the setback loss of one shark; it signals the need for some serious re-education. Dr. Stunz cannot disagree, but chooses his words carefully.
“You may notice the fish is still alive,” Dr. Stunz says. “I’m opposed to killing animals, hunting, etc. and do it all the time, but this is sort of pointless killing.
“A sad way to go for such a majestic creature… taking your last breaths while getting hung up after drug 12 miles into port.”
Be it known the angler broke no laws. His actions, dubious as they may have been, were within state and federal game laws.
Then again, what great joy could be derived from killing such a fascinating and increasingly uncommon creature? Does donating the meat free the angler from a moral obligation to the resource he partakes?
What do you think?
If it’s all about the meat, why not donate catfish fillets from HEB grocery? It would be cheaper than the diesel fuel burned running the Gulf. And farm-raised catfish can be replaced far more readily than a 12-foot tiger shark.
Granted, it doesn’t get you face on TV news, but it makes a helluva lot more sen$e, and it’s better for the fishery.
The media, KIII TV in particular, is complicit in this behavior, of course. Prime time footage of a dead fish gives a short-sighted fisherman his puffy-chested 15 minutes of fame (shame?), but does nothing for shark research or conservation.
Dr. Stunz and his team walks a tightrope here. They have enjoyed nothing but positive media coverage. But I hope Dr. Stunz will consider writing a short note suggesting that this “news” was aired with no consideration for the mid-range, long-term detriment of the species.
I wonder if the station’s program director and reporters would get it?
I think the fish tagging team and A&M-Corpus Christi would be surprised by the public support they would receive. For Dr. Stunz and other marine researchers, this education process is just getting started.
For evidence, look no further than formerly controversial bag limits that have allowed the redfish to rally from the brink. Today, it’s not much of a controversy, but the accepted law of the land and the right way to enjoy the fish, while protecting the resource.
I predict it will take a full generation to change the common mind-set on sharks.
The author edits this website while researching his next book, “They Gave Us Baseball – Now Look What We’ve Done.” The carnivorous, deer-hunting McDonald has killed his last shark, and he won’t buy shark steaks at market.