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.
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.
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.
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. http://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2009-2.RLTS.T3854A10132481.en.
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.