SHARKS & RECREATIONAL FISHERIES RESEARCH

What happens to sharks after release, and where do they go? What is their recovery time? What can we do to improve their experience? These are some of the questions that need answering in our coastal waters.

There is little known about what happens to sharks after release from recreational fishing in the northeast Atlantic, including how long they take to recover, their behaviour after release, or where they go. To improve our understanding of recreational shark fisheries, a team of researchers, led by the University of Exeter, have begun a project to better investigate how different angling techniques affect sharks and assess the animals' behaviour post-release, including potential effects on recovery time and/or survival. The first phase of the project will synthesize existing research on survivorship and build a repository of global angling guidelines. A tagging programme will also be conducted in the southwest of the British Isles, a region with an active and thriving recreational fishery. Results will be used to build stronger stakeholder relationships and improve good practice handling guidelines, to maintain fish survival and the long term sustainability of the recreational fishing industry. The project will involve collaboration with the sea angling community, as well as partners including the Centre for Environment, Fisheries and Aquaculture ScienceShark Trust and Plymouth Marine Laboratory.

This project is funded by the European Maritime and Fisheries Fund and accompanied by a PhD studentship from NERC GW4+.

Sharks

Sharks play a key role in promoting the health and equilibrium of marine ecosystems. However, sharks and rays are particularly vulnerable to overfishing due to their biology, as they have adopted conservative life histories characterised by slow growth, late maturation, long lifespan, and production of few young each year. As a result of persistent overfishing, global populations have declined significantly in the past 50 years, with about 70% of oceanic sharks having disappeared.

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Catch and Release Angling

When conducted responsibly, recreational fishing has the potential to be a valuable, sustainable activity. But it can also represent an additional pressure on shark populations if survivorship is poor. The scale of recreational fishing in the UK, for example, involved an estimated a cumulative 7 million days at sea between 2015 and 2017. Given the scale and importance of the shark angling practice, it is important to always look for potential refinements and adjustments that can improve its sustainability.

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Research

Recreational catch and release fishing needn't constitute a threat to sharks. If anglers can use low impact gears, maintain sharks in the water, and handle them carefully, then post-release mortality can be minimised. However, only limited research exists regarding which of these factors have the greatest impact on shark survivorship, or whether this differs among species and how to improve techniques. It is important to build knowledge on the post-release behaviour of recreationally caught sharks, especially those considered endangered or vulnerable to angling stress.

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