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Shark Baiting Regulation in Effect

By DAVID RAINER 

Have any idea how far away a bull shark can pick up a blood trail?

Believe it or not, it’s one mile. That’s right, 5,280 feet.

And that is one of the reasons there has been a change in the way anglers in Alabama can fish for sharks.

After tweaking the language in the regulation to ensure safe fishing practices would not be hindered, the Alabama Department of Conservation and Natural Resources’ Marine Resources Division recently enacted a regulation to prohibit chumming or bloodbaiting for sharks in certain areas.

The regulation reads:

 “It shall be unlawful within three hundred feet of the shoreline, or on a public pier, or on a private pier where an unsafe condition is created, on or in waters of Alabama under the jurisdiction of the Marine Resources Division as provided by Rule 220-2-.42, to fish for or target sharks or any species by those methods commonly known as ‘chumming’ or ‘bloodbaiting.’

“For purposes of this regulation, ‘chumming’ shall be defined as the throwing of bait or fish parts into the water to attract fish.

“For purposes of this regulation, ‘bloodbaiting’ shall be defined as the use of blood, chemical or synthetic attractants, fish parts, chicken parts or other animal parts to attract fish or sharks.

“It shall be unlawful, on or adjacent to the waters of Alabama under the jurisdiction of the Marine Resources Division as provided by Rule 220-2-.42, for any person to surf fish for sharks, bow fish for sharks, or fish for or target sharks by any other means from any pier or beach in such a manner that presents an unsafe condition to any beach goers, sun bathers, swimmers, or any other person.”

“The regulation itself was requested by the town of Orange Beach because of concern for tourists coming to the beach,” said Vernon Minton, Director of Marine Resources. “It was a situation that other coastal towns were dealing with and they didn’t know what to do.”

Minton said he and members of his staff sat down to try to draft regulation to address the potential for human interaction with sharks that had been baited into an area with blood bait or chum.

“We knew it would be difficult to enforce, but we also knew 90 percent of the people will follow regulations whether there’s an enforcement officer standing there or not,” he said. “Plus, we’ve got the help of the local enforcement people.

“It’s one of those situations where if people use common sense there shouldn’t be a problem. If you see people swimming, it doesn’t make sense to throw chum out there. A lot of people don’t realize that the chum will drift down on someone else and potentially get someone hurt. They don’t understand how much that could impact other people on the beach.”

Minton said many people who visit the Alabama Coast are not familiar with the species and don’t realize how sensitive the olfactory receptors are in a shark.

“If the sharks are hungry, they’re going to investigate,” he said. “If they’ve just finished a gorging meal, they might check it out later. A lot of times, they’re just inquisitive. They want to see what’s going on.”

Dr. Bob Shipp, head of Marine Sciences at the University of South Alabama and official judge at the recently completed 72nd annual Alabama Deep Sea Fishing Rodeo, said there are several species of sharks that roam the beaches in Alabama – Atlantic sharpnose, blacktip, blacknose, spinner, as well as bull and tiger.

“Bull and tiger are the ones we’ve got to worry about,” said Shipp, who weighed a 431-pound tiger shark at the rodeo last week. “The thing about a bull is that it can go into brackish water, so it might end up in the bays as well as on the beach. The spinners and blacktips will run down their bait, but the bull is a real scavenger and can home in on blood at incredible distances. The tiger is aggressive, but it likes very clear water. It’s still a threat, but not like the bull.”

Neither Shipp nor Minton are trying to frighten people away from the water but want people to be aware of the potential risk, especially in areas where chum or bloodbait is in the water.

“It’s kind of like the overflights we do when we start seeing sharks on beach,” Minton said. “In our typical run from the west end of Dauphin Island to Alabama Point we’ll see three to six sharks. When we start seeing 25-30, or like we had a few years ago when we had 130 sightings, that doesn’t mean there’s a 20 times higher chance of you being bitten. It just means you should be more cautious before you enter the water.

“We never talked about staying out of the water because sharks are there. Sharks are always there. But we talked about being smart and not wearing shiny jewelry or don’t get in the water if it’s turbid and the visibility is real low or when bait fish are in the area. The sharks might be feeding on the bait fish and you might inadvertently be considered part of that school of bait. Another thing is to make sure you’re swimming with a buddy, so you can watch out for each other. When we’ve got those kinds of numbers out there, we just thought it was the prudent thing to do and let people know there were sharks out there in numbers atypical for what we normally see.”

Minton said this summer’s shark sightings have been below normal, so far.

“That doesn’t mean they won’t show up all of a sudden,” he said. “One thing is we haven’t seen quite as much bait as usual. The sharks tend to follow the bait, which makes sense. If you’ve got a lot of bait near shore, typically you will see the sharks start to move in. We do fly over six times a month and record the number of bait schools and number of sharks. Once we hit numbers of sharks that are considered above normal, we’ll go to more frequent flyovers to stay on top of it.”           

Minton also cautions beach goers to be aware of another species that can cause a painful injury.

“The other thing to be careful of walking in water, sting rays can do a lot of damage,” he said. “Shuffle your feet instead of picking it up and setting it down. If you set your foot down on a partially buried sting ray, the first thing it’s going to do is throw that barb at you. If you shuffle your feet, it will spook them and run them off.”

As for the new regulation, Minton said there was never the intent to stop chumming.

“It was to prevent interaction with sharks along the beach where people are in the water,” he said. “We just want people to have an enjoyable, safe visit to the beach. For the fishermen, there are places to go to where you have a better chance to catch a shark anyway.”

PHOTO: This 174-pound bull shark was caught during last week's Alabama Deep Sea Fishing Rodeo at Dauphin Island.           

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