Kayak Fishing for Shark: A Morally Questionable and Reckless Pursuit
Ernest Hemingway published his last major work of fiction, The Old Man and the Sea, in 1952, a novella it tells the story of an aging Cuban fisherman named Santiago who on the eighty fifth day of a monumental lean spell catches a giant marlin which he eventually subdues, kills, ties to the side of his skiff and while sailing back to shore fights a losing battle with marauding sharks, who eventually eat the fish leaving only its bones strapped to Santiago’s skiff as a record of the fishes size and that he actually caught it.
The great marlin, 5.5 meters long, could only be defeated by Santiago letting it tow both him and his skiff until such time as the fish became overcome with exhaustion whence the aging fisherman could haul in his prize and deal with it as described above. An artisan fisherman who earned his living from the sea Santiago is respectful and compassionate towards his quarry referring to the fish as his brother and aware also of the fishes dignity, considering according to Hemingway’s narrative that no one shall deserve to eat the marlin such was the struggle it put up to win its freedom.
Reading Hemingway’s narrative one cannot but feel an affinity for the fisherman and the fish both being connected in a struggle to survive, both seeking to discover each others strengths and weaknesses with a view to winning the day. It is a story of man’s courage, skill and ingenuity juxtapositioned against nature’s beauty and cruelness. In the end nature wins out but is kind enough to leave a legacy, the marlin’s bones, which elevates Santiago’s lost status with his peers on his return. Although the great fish is consumed by sharks as against humans its life even in premature death has proved beneficial.
What has Hemingway’s The Old Man and the Sea and the pursuit of kayak “sport” fishing for shark off the Irish coast got in common, not a lot really once one removes the fact that both the novella and the aforementioned pursuit involve a single fisherman in a small craft targeting a very large predator. Santiago put his life on the line because fishing was his livelihood, the great fish would feed him, put a roof over his head while covering his living and business costs, all justifiable reasons for targeting the marlin. On the other hand it is hard to find any justifiable reason one could give to legitimise targeting large predators such as porbeagle sharks from kayaks other than personal gratification.
To expand further on the above statement; last week Inland Fisheries Ireland published in their Irish Angling Update ezine dated 23/06/2016 a piece entitled “Sea King Catches 300 lb Porbeagle on Kayak”. Within the piece are links to a video on youtube and a short narrative. Objective analysis of what is portrayed clearly within the video runs contrary to the ethos of “sport fishing” with the need for further debate on the morality of targeting large predators from kayaks paramount.
The Guinness Guide to Saltwater Angling by Brian Harris, first published in 1977 includes an opening chapter where “sport fishing principles” are considered. A number of salient points are made which help define sport fishing of which “that the angler should use equipment which makes the contest between fish and fisherman equal” rings loud and clear. Post 1977 there has been an inexorable move towards catch and release sea angling brought about by expedience caused by commercial overfishing at sea and increasing concerns for fish welfare, it is the latter in conjunction with balanced equipment that the remainder of this article will concentrate on when considering the merits or not of kayak fishing for large predators.
This writer has hooked and boated large tope in excess of 50 lbs. Upon being lifted on board tope remain extremely lively, a rag placed over the head and eyes serving to calm the fish down while the hook is being extracted. Logic dictates that a large porbeagle in excess of two hundred pounds will place the antics of a freshly caught tope firmly in the shade. Space is required to deal with a large fish in terms of unhooking so that the angler remains in control of the situation, kayaks provide no such space therefore the angler is never in control.
The video of the porbeagle shark encountered while kayak fishing off Malin Head, Co. Donegal clearly shows that the porbeagle is an extremely lively adversary for the angler, ramming the kayak and most definitely too hot to handle while fresh. The angler is left with one option to cut the line, of which there is no mention so one assumes that action was never part of the equation or tire the fish out to the point of exhaustion, which is what occurs.
The kayak angler like Santiago in Hemingway’s novella allows the hooked porbeagle to tow both him and his kayak for over three hours until the shark is so knackered that it hangs vertical in the water whence the angler now holding the steel trace uses a pliers to unhook the fish. Morally and ethically the action described above which can all be watched on the video oversteps all the written and unwritten rules of sport fishing.
All equipment used should make the fight equal and that includes the fishing platform. Hooked from a suitable boat with balanced fishing tackle the porbeagle would have given a good account of itself, been brought alongside fairly quickly and released while still fresh, at all times the situation being controlled by the angler. The kayak angler in the video on the other hand is not in control of the situation until such time as the shark is close to death and close to death it was. Sharks need to constantly move pushing water through their gills to live, it is not natural to hang vertically motionless as the subdued porbeagle in the video clearly is.
Anglers need to take responsibility for their pursuit and how it is portrayed, most importantly they need to have consideration for the welfare of the animal they are pursuing. Where a fish is to be eaten we kill it humanely and quickly, when it is targeted for sport we play it to cause the minimum of discomfort and handle with extreme care when landed before returning to give it every chance of survival. If we as anglers cannot affect that level of care then we do not target. Playing a fish for three hours to the point of exhaustion because it is the only way of gaining control over the hooked animal shows a complete lack of care calling into question the use of kayaks as suitable fishing platforms when targeting large predators such as porbeagle sharks.
This writer has spoken to key people within Inland Fisheries Ireland, the body which promotes responsible angling within Ireland, who received my concerns favourably and is calling upon the state agency, representative bodies and sea anglers in general to consider the sport and their responsibility when it comes to fish welfare and work towards delivering a clear message that the use of kayaks as fishing stations/platforms when targeting large sea going predators is not acceptable.
If you disagree with the above go sprint four hundred meters then have someone immediately after hold your head underwater for one minute and see how long you last before you struggle like mad for air. Now consider the porbeagle………..