Recreational “raggie ban”…

The recent listing of the spotted ragged-tooth shark as a vulnerable species, by the Department of Environmental Affairs, caused a significant amount of confusion and frustration, especially after the classification of Hammerhead sharks as prohibited species (as stated by the Marine Recreational Activity Information Brochure 2016/2017) only a few months prior. The release of the Government Gazette, which stated that the “catching and capturing” or “hunting and killing” of the much loved spotted ragged-tooth shark was from now on, prohibited. This resulted in a large number of recreational anglers questioning the new regulations regarding the species. Anglers from all over the country flocked to social media and popular forums to vent their frustrations, question the regulations and debate over the topic. However in the calm of the storm it still remains unclear to many how this is going to effect recreational fishing in South Africa, particularly those that compete on a provincial and national level, if it is to have any effect at all. A recent statement from SASAA has indicated that as for now the catching of raggies will be allowed for all SASAA competitions.

Not too shabby for a first raggie. Caught at Sunday’s, Eastern Cape.

A bit of background information on the species:

The spotted ragged-tooth shark (Carcharias taurus), affectionately known as the “raggie” in South African waters, is also known as the grey nurse shark or sand tiger shark. The species is relatively well distributed, occurring in most subtropical and warm temperate oceans on the globe (other than the Eastern Pacific). Raggies are considered to have a relatively slow growth rate (something we noticed on a recent recapture – in which said female raggie grew a total of 370mm in the 1643 between the tag and recapture events. Just to put things into perspective thats a grand total of 1.6mm per week!!). Males can reach sexual maturity between 6 /7 years of age (which equates to a total length of roughly 190cm in size) and females at 9/10 years of age (approx. 220cm total length).

C. taurus is ovoviviparous, meaning that the eggs hatch within the body and the juveniles remain in the uterus until fully developed. However, high levels of intrauterine cannabilism, during their approx. 9 month gestation period, results in only one or two pups per litter – yip, survival of the fittest begins before they have even entered into the big, bad world! Females are thought to only give birth to young once every two years.

Distribution of the spotted ragged tooth shark, C. taurus. (Map source:

The social and economic use and value of ragged-tooth sharks is seen to diversify throughout the distribution. In South Africa, raggies are an important species for recreational anglers. They are also sometimes landed as by-catch by commercial fishing vessels.

Why they need our help?

In order to protect the species it is important to recognise that the life history characteristics (e.g. low number of offspring, sexual maturity at > 5 years of age, do not breed annually) of ragged tooth sharks make the species easily susceptible to a rapid population decline. Interestingly, the Australian Government was the first to recognise the threat the species faced and as such it was declared the worlds first protected shark species, in 1984 (thats nearly half a decade before South Africa initiated conservation efforts on the iconic Great White shark!!). The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) currently recognises C. taurus as vulnerable.

How can we make a difference?

As a recreational angler it is crucial for us to all realise the role we play in conserving our stocks. Probably one of the most important things when actively targeting sharks is to make use of adequate tackle – a minimum of 50lb braid or .55 nylon. It is possible to land a substantial raggie on light tackle but it is not ideal for the fish. The less stress on the fish, the higher the chance of a successful release. We can never emphasise too much the importance of being ready with a pliers and camera before the fish hits the beach. The unhooking, photographing and releasing of the fish should ideally not take longer than 1 minute.

As with any species, a large amount of energy is expended during the fight, ensure that fish are released in an adequate depth of water giving him/her the best swim off possible. Rolling around in the shallows adds unnecessary extra stress. Once released, keep an eye on your fish to make sure that they have made it over the lip and into the deep.

Protea angler, Gerhard Guse, with a “black bag” caught in Jeffreys Bay, Eastern Cape.

Their rough skin and sharp teeth means that sharks are often viewed as being a lot tougher HOWEVER they need, and deserve, to be treated with as much respect and care as smaller edibles.

Sources and additional reading:

The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2009.

Pollard, D.A., M.P. Lincoln-Smith & A.K. Smith (1996). The biology and conservation of the grey nurse shark (Carcharias taurus Rafinesque 1810) in New South Wales, Australia. Aquatic Conservation: Marine and Freshwater Ecosystems.

Let them go, watch them grow…

There has been a major (POSITIVE) mind shift in the recreational fishery with regards to the practice of catch and release angling. This has mainly been driven by the increase in the use of social media to share our “catch of the day” and TV shows.

Catch and release is crucial for our ever depleting fish stocks however the aim of this is to ensure that the fish is returned to the water in a state which maximises its chances of survival. Many assume that a fish which swims away is fit to survive however a lot of research has looked into the stress a fish is exposed to during such an event and the immediate and prolonged effects on them. By understanding a few basic principles and applying appropriate measures we can increase the survival rate of the fish we release.

Probably the most important thing to take into account is the amount of time a fish is held out of the water. Just like we need to breathe, so does a fish and a good rule of thumb to live by is to hold your breath when you remove the fish from the water, when you need to breathe, so does the fish! We often don’t realise how long it takes to unhook the fish, measure, photograph etc. A study conducted, by Ferguson and Tufts 1992, revealed that fish, which were exposed to a similar stress as that caused by the fight, had a survival rate of 88% after being out of the water for 30 seconds. However, after 60 seconds survival rates dropped to 62% and after 60 of seconds exposure to air, survival was a mere 28%! There are a number of simple ways to reduce the amount of time we expose our fish to air. Hold fish in the water for as long as possible. In some cases fish can be held in nets while removing hooks. In many instances taking photos is the main reason why fish are held out of the water for prolonged periods of time. Have cameras ready (switched on and ready to snap away) before landing your fish so that photos can be taken straight away. In some cases buckets/nets can be used for fish to be placed in till you are ready to take the snap.

Behinds the scenes with Craig Thomassen and the Inside Angling crew.

Removal of the hook is another factor which can influence fish survival post-release. The first thing to consider is hook type: using single hooks you increase the ease of removing the hook and consequently the tissue damage to the fish (trebles are nasty things – for both fish and angler!).  Secondly, hook position – in many cases it is better for a deeply set hook to be left, it will eventually dissolve. Thirdly, a long nose pliers or hook remover can be used to reduce time taken to remove the hook.

How we handle the fish whilst removing hooks and taking photos is fundamental to successful catch and release practices.

  • When handling a fish out of the water, it is best to ensure your hands are wet. This reduces the amount of slime which is removed from the skin of the fish. Fish slime (also known as the mucoprotein coating) acts as a protective coating, reducing the risk of attack from nasty pathogens.
  • Support the fish. Hold the fish with one hand firmly under the belly and the other close to the tail. With bigger fish it is better to keep the fish in the water – there are many ways to take nice photos of large fish whilst they are still in the water. Alternatively make use of a boga grip – this is particularly useful for fish such as shad who have a tendency to shake their way out of your hands.
  • DO NOT TOUCH THE GILLS! The gills of a fish are extremely sensitive and any damage to this organ will result in a slow death!

Niel du Toit holding a kingfish the correct way.

Once we have effectively landed our fish, removed the hook and taken our photo we are ready to release our catch. However, before we let our catch swim off it is often a good idea to revive the fish. Hold the fish gently by the tail and face it into  the current, this allows for fresh water to pass over the gills and allow it to recharge itself with much needed oxygen. Once your fish is ready to forcefully kick out of your hands let it go and watch it grow!

Kyle Galloway reviving a leerie before watching it swim off.

Ferguson, R.A. and B.L. Tufts. 1992. Physiological effects of brief air exposure in exhaustively exercised rainbow trout (Oncorhynchus mykiss): implications for “catch and release” fisheries. Canadian Journal of Fisheries and Aquatic Sciences 49:1157-1162.