Coastal Shark Tagging Initiative
Last month, the Folly Beach City Council proposed a new ordinance that would ban fishing for sharks near the Folly Beach pier out of fear of shark fishing endangering swimmers. The ordinance, that went on to pass this month, gained heavy criticism in the community. Among the critics, was the nonprofit organization Coastal Shark Tagging Initiative (CSTI).
Since 2013, members of the organization, Stan Warren, Dan McGuckin, and Mike Popovich, have been safely catching and releasing sharks in the Charleston area. Overtime the group evolved from a meetup group into the organization that it is today. Together they have recorded the length, sex, species, moon phase, water temperature, and tides of almost 200 sharks
CSTI initially formed to gather information that would help them catch more fish, but, after gaining the attention of the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, have since become focused on shark research. They even work collaboratively with the SCDNR now for tasks like determining the density of shark populations near piers, like Folly’s, through the use of acoustic echo-tags.
The organization puts an emphasis on sharks that are near the ocean as opposed to the larger great white sharks that many scientists are fond of researching. According to group member Mike Popovich, by focusing on sharks near the shore “We feel like our research will have more of an impact on the general public in terms of safety through education, because we fish where people and sharks converge.”
According to the CSTI website, they are “dedicated to informing and educating the public about the behaviors and habits of the sharks that inhabit our coastal waters.” They do this safely by not fishing on heavily populated beaches during high volume times and by never chumming the waters for sharks. Popovich states that, “We have a strong team dynamic with predetermined roles that allows us to quickly unhook, measure, tag, and release the shark to better ensure safety for the shark and our anglers.”
In reference to the Folly Beach ordinance, CSTI released a statement saying, “It is unfortunate. It is unjustified. It is irresponsible…the claims made by proponents of shark banning ordinances are generally naive, over embellished, misleading, or primarily based on an opinion. Never are statements backed by numbers on data they or anyone else collected and on record.” They go on to say, “The reason it is irresponsible is because the only outcome of a ban we can determine absolutely, is that swimmers will enter the water with a false sense of security that they are swimming in shark free water…that somehow by passing an ordinance, the sharks go away like magic.” For this reason, the organization had urged the county to commission research in order to make a sound and educated decision on the necessity of the ordinance.
All such pleas were ignored leading up to the decision to pass the ordinance. Those caught fishing for sharks will now face fines up to $500 and/or 30 days in jail. CSTI believes that the safety of the public was not a contributing factor in this decision, but that is was made solely to benefit financial agendas. The organization stated that “Horry County passed a shark-ban in 1964, yet when you compare the number of recorded shark bites to Charleston County, the numbers are STILL the same.”
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