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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Sunday, May 28, 2006

Catching powerful sharks takes big hooks, lots of line

 •  Tagging sharks a chilling task

By Jan TenBruggencate
Advertiser Science Writer

Carl Meyer's tiger shark traps are smaller but fundamentally the same as the gear used by Hawai'i's longline fishery, with a float and anchor at each end, and a long line with dangling baited hooks in between.

The shark lines are baited with various kinds of meat, preferably fatty tuna known as kawakawa, but they'll take shark meat as well.

The hooks are 3 1/2-inch circle hooks the biggest ones Meyer can find commercially made. He said he prefers the inward curve of the point in circle hooks because they cause less injury to sharks than a J-shaped hook. He'd prefer them bigger because often, big sharks have enough power to bend them straight and get away.

After three or four hours of "soak time," the shark-fishing rig is recovered. When a shark comes up, it is separated from the main fishing line and affixed to a large, orange float and allowed to drift away from the other fishing gear.

The boat then releases the main line and goes to deal with the shark in water without fear of snagging other rope.

The float is recovered and the shark hauled up alongside. The hook end is tied to the boat's bow, and a loop taken around the tail is tied off at the stern. With its powerful tail largely immobilized, the shark can thrash but can't do significant damage unless someone gets too close to the jaws.

The animals are kept immersed so water keeps flowing over their gills.

Sharks rolled upside down become quieter, although they occasionally still thrash.

Once tagging is done, Meyer removes the hook, generally cutting the cable and pulling it through the hook wound, rather than trying to shove the hook's barb back through the animal's jaw.

Several people aboard our boat took underwater cameras into the ocean with them to photograph shark releases. Meyer said freshly tagged sharks seem to simply want to get away, and will not bother humans in the water at this stage.

Reach Jan TenBruggencate at jant@honoluluadvertiser.com.