Current Waters: SHARKTASTIC!
Capt. Carl Bois •
I can’t think of a better place to spend a hot July day than on the water, especially when the fishing is so good.
Fishing update: The bluefishing has been outstanding. Striped bass are holding very strong. Bottom fishing (fluke and black seabass) we’d like to see improve.
We still have plenty of bait in the water – sand eels, squid, bunker – which help keep our sportfish around. Soon the bonito will be in the mix to spice things up a bit.
Off shore fishing report: Tuna fishing is still great. Plenty of the “take home to eat” size out there.
Sharks seem to be on everyone’s minds lately. You may have seen a few shark feeding videos on social media – even a sharknado. With Shark Week coming up, we thought we could cut through the hype and focus on some shark action on Nantucket.
Speaking of sharks, while I’ve been working on and thinking about this article, today while fishing top water, we had two different sharks (likely brown sharks, one of decent size) try and take down bluefish. One was successful, one wasn’t. It made for an exciting trip.
Whether or not you like it, shark fishing seems to have gotten more popular on our Nantucket beaches lately. And, yes, it is legal to fish for sharks, but not always to keep. There are some important things to know when shark fishing.
First, know your species. There are different regulations depending on the species. As an in-shore fishery, this is regulated by the state. This link (scroll down) covers which species are allowed to harvest and which aren’t, as well as size limit and number allowable per angler or per boat. We recommend releasing all of them. They are much more valuable in the ocean than on the dinner plate.
Circle hooks are required when targeting sharks (with few exceptions). These hooks help minimize impact to the animal since so many are catch and release. Much of the regulations are about minimizing impact. For best practices, the goal is for quick releases; not dragging the shark around on the sand. Appropriately sized tackle that is made to bring in larger fish helps limit the overall fight time. This is beneficial to the shark aiding in a good release. Also consider having a pair of bolt cutters for when you need to cut a circle hook for quick release. The most important thing to consider is to have a plan for when you actually land a shark. Have a camera ready if you want a photo, take it quick and release it to swim another day.
One of the species of interest is a sandbar shark. Sandbar sharks are sometimes called brown sharks or sand sharks, Carcharhinus plumbeus, and can reach up to 7.5 feet in length. These are not to be confused with the smaller smooth dogfish which is sometimes called a “sand shark”. Smooth dogfish (Mustelus canis) only reach about 4 feet at most and have flat, raspy teeth that can’t hurt you.
The sandbar shark is one of the biggest coastal sharks in the world and is more similar to a dusky or sand tiger shark. A warm water species, the sandbar shark is at its northern limit in Massachusetts waters.
New research by PhD student Caroline Collatos (Anderson Cabot Center for Ocean Life at the New England Aquarium and UMass Boston) is investigating the inshore coastal activity of our sandbar sharks. This research, in collaboration with the New England Aquarium, the Nantucket Land Council, and the Atlantic White Shark Conservancy, in shedding light on inshore-shark diversity and movement patterns.
Using rod and reel baited with bluefish chunks, Caroline reels in sandbar sharks typically in under 5 minutes. Once secured they are measured, assessed for species and sex and then some candidates are tagged. One tag is a conventional ID tag (part of the NOAA Fisheries Cooperative Shark Tagging program). The data collected and the tag ID number is reported back to the agency and the data becomes part of the larger NOAA Fisheries database. If recaptured, the data associated with the tag becomes important base-line information.
Some sharks are also given a second tag that is an acoustic tag. These tags ping at a single frequency generating data on shark movement. There are 14 receivers around the island so Caroline can track movement of tagged individuals recording data on where they go and for how long. Other researchers with similar receivers share information on pings they receive from her sharks allowing her to get information on migration routes and wintering grounds. Two of the tagged sharks from 2021 spent their winter in the Outer Banks along Cape Hatteras.
In the two years she has been conducting her study, Caroline has had 90 individual sandbar sharks and tagged, with acoustic tags, 25 sharks which will continue to ping their location for 5-7 years. More years of data and additional shark species will help create a bigger picture of our inshore biodiversity.
If you want to hear more about Caroline’s research and ask questions, there are multiple chances this coming week as part of the Maria Mitchell Association’s Shark Week programming.