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Shark Week: The Problem With Bycatch

This year marks the 40th anniversary of the movie “Jaws”—a thriller that catapulted sharks to the top of the list of frightening aquatic killers—and they’ve been battling a bad reputation ever since.

Published July 08, 2015

Blacktip reef

But without these apex predators, the ocean’s delicately balanced and complex ecosystem would collapse, leading to any number of environmental declines.

Thanks to programs like Shark Week and institutions like the National Aquarium that invest in public education, many people now understand the dangerous implications of an ocean without sharks.

There has even been forward movement in legislation designed to protect sharks, like Maryland’s ban on the shark fin trade. But shark populations are still in trouble. Many are the victims of bycatch, species unintentionally caught in fishing gear, in both commercial and recreational fishing.

Bycatch typically happens in one of two ways: a species is caught due to overfishing, or a species is caught because its numbers are actually improving, meaning the likelihood of an incidental catch is increased.

Sharks around the world are victims of both of these circumstances. The good news is that fishermen across the globe would rather keep those sharks in the water, maintaining a healthy ecosystem balance in our ocean.

Most commercial fishermen don’t like when sharks get mixed up in their targeted catch (they can actually be pretty smelly), and recreational anglers would certainly rather avoid a shark and wrangle a tasty rockfish or blue catfish instead.

Fishermen are also smart about where and how they fish. New innovations are being tested to help keep sharks from ending up as bycatch, such as hooks that release caught sharks and magnetic deterrents that, aptly named, would deter sharks from hooking on a line.

The more we know, the better we can protect sharks. So, it’s our job to keep educating each other and ourselves. Take a little time today to learn something new about sharks, like the five common sharks that frequent our own Chesapeake Bay.

And remember that the ocean is their home—we’re just visitors. So, if you see a shark, respect its space and get out of the water (the same goes for your fishing line, too).

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