'Selfish stupidity': Fishermen's 400kg shark catch sparks debate

Michael Dahlstrom
·News and Video Producer
·5-min read

The killing of a massive 400-kilogram shark by Aussie fishermen has sparked furious debate online.

An image shared on Facebook shows six men struggling to keep the heavy shark on board a small boat as they made their way back to shore.

The large tiger shark caught on Sunday by Dark Horse captain Paul Barning and his crew between Botany Bay and Port Hacking weighed in at a massive 394.5 kilograms.

While many comments left on the Port Hacking Game Fishing Club's social media page were in awe of the giant predator, others were saddened by the kill, calling it "selfish stupidity".

A 394.5-kilogram tiger shark caught off the coast of Sydney on Sunday.
Captain Paul Barning and the crew of the Dark Horse struggled to bring in a 394.5-kilogram tiger shark caught off the coast of Sydney. Source: Facebook/Port Hacking Game Fishing Club

“My daughter is nine, I just showed her the picture as we caught a small mako a few weeks back and she said she thinks you caught a JAWS!” a fisherman wrote.

Some people were baffled how the crew managed to get this latest catch on the boat, with many suggesting the men need a bigger vessel.

“How did you get that on the boat without destroying it? Would’ve been kicking very hard,” a person said.

“How did you not get chomped?” another person asked.

'Particularly vulnerable': Fear for future of tiger shark

Internationally, tiger sharks are listed as near-threatened on the IUCN Red List of endangered species, and down the east coast of Australia scientists have noted a staggering 74 per cent decrease in numbers over the last 50 years.

While the species hasn’t been registered as endangered by state or federal authorities, it is “particularly vulnerable” to extinction, according to the Humane Society International’s shark expert Lawrence Chlebeck.

He notes larger sharks, like the one caught on Sunday, play a key role as apex predators of the ocean and usually learn by the time they get to that size, not to attack humans.

Smaller sharks which are known to be more aggressive, will stay away when there is a bigger one in the area, Mr Chlebeck added.

Known to be very resilient to the trauma of being caught, he argues that once caught, tiger sharks can easily be released with a high likelihood of survival.

A large shark on the back of a Sydney fishing boat with three men hauling it up.
Another large shark reeled in by fishermen during the NSW game fishing tournament on the weekend. Source: Facebook

'Man versus nature': Call to end shark killing

Critical of the killing of large sharks for sport, Mr Chlebeck said game fishing can be traced back to old attitudes of “man verses nature”, he said.

“There’s a feeling that we're overcoming or defeating something potentially more powerful than ourselves,” he told Yahoo News Australia.

“But we've got to catch up with the times, we've got to move past that, that illogic.

“We need to recognise these magnificent species for what they are and do everything we can to make sure that they don't fall further into decline.”

Not out there to 'murder everything that's in the water'

Despite there being an online backlash to the large tiger shark catch, much of the criticism is misguided, NSW Game Fishing Association president Garry Chenoweth says.

"Our guys are not out there just to murder everything that's in the water," he told Yahoo News Australia.

"Those guys (in the photo) have taken just one fish."

Mr Chenoweth argues the impact of game fishermen is but a drop in the ocean when compared to other forms of fishing and people are responding to seeing a “huge animal” which they liken to the killing of an elephant.

“We don’t even rate on the one per cent scale in terms of the impact on oceanic species,” he said.

“It’s really easy to defend (game fishing), but people don’t want to see the actual statistics.

“(People) just see a picture (of a shark being caught online) and want to lynch everybody up.”

Mr Chenoweth says while many fishermen think nothing of filling an esky full of bream and snapper, these species are actually much slower growing than sharks.

“So if you take a five kilo snapper, it’s probably about 35 years old,” he said.

“They’ll fill an esky full of those."

Sharks weighed and then donated to science

Mr Chenoweth describes most game fishermen as being "advocates for ocean care", noting the 1000 fishermen who took part in the inter-club tournament across NSW, participated in scientific research.

During the tournament, which took place across NSW over the weekend, more than 240 sharks were tagged and released, and data gained from this would support studies into shark movements, growth rates and predation.

Three sharks, including the giant tiger shark, were killed, taken to shore and weighed as part of the competition.

Their bodies were donated to science to better understand the impact of micro plastics and reproductive cycles.

During the weekend, 200 marlin were also tagged and five were weighed.

Those not butchered by the fishermen for food were donated to an Inverell mission to feed people in need.

"Nothing was wasted over the weekend," Mr Chenoweth said.

According to NSW game fishing records, the 394.5-kilogram tiger shark isn't the biggest catch to have been recorded.

The largest Australian tiger shark weighed in at 694.5 kilograms and was caught in 2008 by Hexham fisherman Jason Hewitt.

According to the SharkSmart NSW website tiger sharks can grow up to six metres, but average about three metres.

They are known to frequent shallow water and due to their indiscriminate diet, they are considered one of the most dangerous and aggressive sharks in the ocean.

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