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The Journey to Catch & Release

In common with shark anglers everywhere in the UK in the 70’s and 80’s the Bembridge Angling Club, on the Isle of Wight, killed and weighed their sharks.

By the mid 80’s the consequences of kill and weigh was becoming increasingly evident as the numbers of Porbeagle continued to  decline each year. This was further exacerbated by commercial long lining in the area .

Bembridge anglers pose with sharks caught in the 70's

The Bembridge club realised that unless they stopped killing the sharks, very soon the fishery would totally collapse and this led them to introduce a strict policy of returning all sharks alive from 1985 onwards.

Following this decision, two Bembridge club members, Danny Vokins and Joe Filipe went to the 1985 SACGB AGM to present what had happened to the Isle of Wight fishery and seek the support of the SACGB to warn that continuing with kill and weigh would seriously damage other fisheries.

Danny and Joe recall the club listened politely but wouldn’t accept that shark stock levels were being damaged by their policy of kill and weigh. Undeterred, Danny and Joe continued to share what had happened to the Isle of Wight fishery and held discussions with many skippers and anglers including north Cornwall and Devon fisheries where recreationally caught Porbeagle were shipped to Billingsgate where they regularly made £1 per lb which was good money.

We don't know whether the money clouded their better judgement or whether the skippers genuinely believed that shark stocks were sufficiently resilient to continue killing them but as Danny and Joe predicted, the stocks of Porbeagle in the north coast fishery did collapse.

The continuing reduction in Porbeagle stock convinced Danny and Joe that the issue needed to be raised again with the SACGB so they resolved to attend the 1991 AGM and present their alternative solution to kill and weigh.

 At the 1991 AGM, Danny stated he knew of many anglers who wanted to join the club but refused to kill the shark just to qualify for membership and pointed out that the club would lose a lot of members if the situation wasn't changed.

He went on to say that they were using a formula for estimating weight which worked well and presented his proposition which is given below in its entirety.

The Catch & Release Proposition

(this is a copy of the original text of Dannys proposition)

Proposition From:  Mr D Vokins

Seconded By:  Mr P Brennon

KILL TO QUALIFY POLICY: In this present ecologically minded climate it is becoming more unacceptable to an increasing number of anglers and non anglers alike. The sight of a sometimes small and immature shark hanging from the gallows of the weighing scales, and awaiting a disposal maybe at sea or on a rubbish dump, can in nobody’s way of thinking be a good advert for our chosen sport. Agreed that some shark carcases do go for food, but in some ports away from Looe this is only by prior arrangement with a fish merchant or retailer and is a source of disposal that is not always available. A more acceptable way of qualifying must be found and in the near future. Remember how the efforts to stop fox and deer hunting very nearly succeeded in the recent debate in parliament.

Now how are we to achieve this? Various methods have been discussed at great length bot at the SACGB and other organisations and places where anglers meet.

My proposal therefore is as follows.

  1. An angler should qualify for membership of the SACGB if he fulfils the following requirements. ie all existing SACGB rules regarding tackle and methods

  2. The shark must be estimated (or using the formula) by the angler and one other witness, to be above the SACGB minimum qualifying weight as laid down in the rules

  3. Any shark that qualifies the angler by this method is ineligible for any SACGB awards other than membership

  4. Any shark that is caught over the qualifying weight and landed ashore to be weighed as a qualifying shark will be subject to the existing rules of the SACGB

  5. Any shark that is caught by a club member and released above the minimum weight therefore should be eligible for a SACGB certificate similar to the non members certificates providing than an existing member or skipper has witnessed the catch. The weight of the shark can be worked out using the formula

Of how these rules would benefit all as an example from one small club, The Bembridge Angling Club last season alone tagged and released 4 Thresher Sharks and 30 plus Porbeagles over the qualifying weight. As a result of this policy of conservation and respect for our sport, eight anglers were unable to gain membership of the SACGB as they preferred to release the fish to help maintain and assist stock recovery for future years and generations of anglers to come.

The majority of these fine fish were tagged to assist in the behaviour study of their habits. It could be emphasised in SACGB publications of estimated sizes and anglers names of notable fish released. After looking to allow a better overall picture of the sharks that we caught at all points around our coast. A formula of shark length to weight already exists compiled by Marine Biologists in USA and a copy of which is enclosed, we feel certain that no problem of duplication of this formula should arise, and therefore should be made available to anyone requesting it.

If these rules enable more people to become members of a governing body of shark angling surely this must be of benefit to all concerned and most importantly to the great fish itself. We are not condemning or decrying any angler who wishes to land his shark, only wishing to encourage conservation through honesty and good sportsmanship.

The club considered Dannys proposition but dismissed it as it was felt this could lead to cheating. As a consequence, and to their credit, the Bembridge Club withdrew from their association with the SACGB and continued with their policy of catch and release.  The Bembridger club still publish and adhere to their voluntary code for targeting and handling sharks.

It wasn't until 1994 that the SACGB decided to change their policy to catch and release for membership and trophy submissions.

Joe Filpe releaases a Porbeagle at the side of the boat

Shark handling best practise continues to evolve and today a large number of shark anglers and skippers now release their sharks in the water.

Whether a shark is boarded then released or released in the water it must be done correctly to avoid damaging it and give it the optimum chance of survival. Because a shark swims away is not definitive proof that it is in a healthy condition. If their internal organs have been damaged by poor handling these might never recover and can compromise it for the remainder of its life.

Unlike Blue sharks, Porbeagle, Thresher and Makos are obligate ram ventilators which benefit greatly from being swum at the side  of the boat to get water passing through their gills to assist their recovery before being released

A Thresher being released at the side of Joe Filipes boat

Something that the SACGB did get correct was that they kept meticulous catch records which are now the foundation of the Pat Smith Database. This dataset comprises catch records for Blue, Porbeagle, Thresher and Mako shark and is the longest timeline shark dataset in the world. It is now being used to provide organisations like ICCAT with information to assist with stock assessments and our understanding of this magnificent species.

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