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Record-Breaking Mako Shark Starts Conservation Debates

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On June 3, a team of professional hunters and fishers who produce reality television for the Outdoor Channel caught a short fin Mako shark 11 feet long and 8 feet in diameter, weighing at 1,323.5 pounds. The previous record for a Mako was a 1,221-pound catch made in July 2001 off the coast of Chatham, Massachusetts.

While Makos rarely interact with people, they are among the fastest of all sharks. Fishermen routinely catch Makos up to six feet long. The short fin Mako is not on the endangered species list, but the species is considered “vulnerable” by the International Union for Conservation of Nature(IUCN). The most recent federal regulation, the Pacific Council’s Highly Migratory Species Fishery Management Plan, allows for a total of 150 metric tons of Mako to be harvested a year by a combination of commercial and recreational interests. The fishermen also have pointed out that they were within legal state limit of two Makos a day.

Discussion about donating the shark to research organizations is currently underway. Shark biologists at the NOAA lab in La Jolla, California, told National Geographic that her agency has been in touch with the anglers. The sample will be valuable to the research on shark movement patterns, reproductive status or foraging ecology. Scientists will also be able to analyze the fish’s brain and other parts of the shark that may provide insight into mercury and other toxin accumulation. The same data would not have been available if the fish had been released.

But that doesn’t mean the news hasn’t touched a nerve in the conservation community. Advocates note that if someone just claimed the record for shooting the largest elephant ever shot in Africa, people would be appalled. Apparently too many people haven’t made that connection with endangered top predator game fish. Although the Mako shark is not identified as endangered, it’s population status is still unknown so we should fish on the side of caution. People have fished out an estimated 90 percent of the ocean’s largest fish, and there are indications that some fish species are genetically downsizing in response to that pressure. CPR – catch, photograph, and release, is recommended as a better approach. Today many sport fishers care about the environment, and there is growing interest in catch and release methods, especially when it comes to slow-reproducing fish like sharks.

photo credit: wikimedia.org

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