Honest mistake? Angler’s catch of protected sandbar shark sparks outrage

Sandbar sharks are federally protected in the U.S. Photo: Courtesy of Wikipedia

A Mississippi angler was on top of the world, thinking he had caught a potential state record bull shark while participating in a weekend tournament.

But that feeling lasted only until the weigh-in at day’s end, when Ryan Bradley learned that what he had actually caught – and killed – was a federally protected sandbar shark. (Warning: The video footage accompanying this story contains graphic content.)

The catch was disqualified and tournament director Rob Ward dismissed the incident to the Sun Herald as “an honest mistake,” citing apparent similarities between ridgeback species of sharks, such as sandbar sharks, dusky sharks and silky sharks.

It remains unclear whether Bradley will be punished for the illegal catch – a spokeswoman for Mississippi Wildlife, Fisheries, and Parks told GrindTV on Tuesday that the agency is investigating – but the angler is being harshly criticized on social media.

“Honest mistake huh?” reads one of dozens of comments on the Shark Savers Facebook page. “BS. If he can’t identify an obvious species of shark like a Bull then he has no business even fishing for them. Now we have a large protected shark dead and the best response is, ‘Oh, my bad, honest mistake.”

Bull sharks do not have the distinct ridge between their dorsal fins. Photo: Courtesy of Wikipedia

Most of those commenting on the Marine Conservation Science Institute’s Facebook page suggested that a substantial fine was in order.

“Delaware is a $500 fine for bringing a protected species onto the sane, let along kill it!” reads one comment.

Sandbar sharks, which are found in tropical and temperate waters, are listed as vulnerable by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

They’ve been severely overfished in the Western Atlantic and are currently protected in state and federal waters. Anglers are supposed to cut the line immediately if they reel one to the boat.

Bradley brought his 222-pound shark to be weighed Saturday at The Blind Tiger Joes & Pros Trout Tournament in Bay St. Louis. A large crowd had gathered to get a closer look.

It was recognized as a sandbar shark almost immediately by weighmaster Mike Buchanan, a retired state marine biologist. “It’s just illegal to have,” Buchanan told the Sun Herald. “Those are the ones that are prohibited right now.”

While many were surprised to see the catch disqualified so quickly, Buchanan was adamant.

“There’s a lot of species of sharks out there and people need to know the that some of them are illegal,” he said. “And so they need to know some of the identifications.”

He pointed to the distinct ridge that runs between the two dorsal fins, a dead giveaway. “That will help you identify it as one of the species of ridgeback sharks that are currently protected under federal law,” Buchanan said.

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