A video showing Shark Bite Charters hauling in a tiger shark, like these above, caused a commotion from residents aghast at the killing.
A video showing a Coral Bay man hooking a tiger shark in water off Le Duc Island with several scuba divers went viral last week, prompting outcry from people horrified by the footage.
The more than nine-minute video showed Andy Greaux, owner of SharkBite Charters based in Coral Bay, hooking into two tiger sharks. One of the sharks gets away; the other one did not fare so well.
The video, filmed by Karl Callwood — who happens to work for Senator Celestino White — and posted on YouTube, shows the hooked tiger shark swimming in circles, bleeding from the gills and mouth and eventually being hauled to shore and dumped in the back of a pickup truck.
The YouTube video includes dramatic instrumental music and zooms in on plumes of blood from the tiger shark, who seems to be doing belly rolls as the creature nears death.
The footage was gathered and emailed to a host of officials last week after first making waves on Facebook. Greaux’s SharkBite Charters business page on the social media website garnered many comments from outraged shark enthusiasts and marine officials, as well as encouraging comments from supporters of the fisherman.
The full content of the comments on the Facebook business page can not be read as Greaux has been deleting threads, and it remains unclear if the charter company’s aim is to offer sightseeing tours or shark hunts.
“Presently taking folks out on the smaller boat to sportfish, diving, snorkel tours and sightseeing tours,” according to SharkBite Charter’s Facebook page. “Fixing larger boat with two shark cages to view the tiger sharkes [sic] in their own environment, in the water a few feet under the boat. Scuba gear supplied.”
What Greaux is doing is not illegal since tiger sharks are not on the Endangered Species List and he is not catching them in V.I. National Park waters. To catch them legally, even for recreational purposes, a fisherman does need a Highly Migratory Species permit.
Commercially fishing the animals would require additional permits and licenses and even then operators are only allowed to catch one per day, according to Bryan DeAngelis, a scientist with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
What is worrying officials in the marine industry about Greaux’s operation is the potential impact of targeting a key part of the food chain and ecosystem and propagating old misconceptions about tiger sharks.
“They are an important part of the ecosystem and food chain,” said DeAngelis. “Like other top predators they have an important role to play. They control the food web from the top down so if they are being eliminated the next level increases and you can continue to follow that link all the way down to level of our coral reefs.”
“It’s also a continuation of what we were hoping was an outdated idea that any good shark is a dead shark,” said DeAngelis. “People are starting to understand the values of shark and that you don’t have to be scared of them. It’s unfortunate that this operation continues to propagate this image of sharks being these vicious, dangerous animals which is not true.”
Killing the shark, instead of following catch and release practices, also baffled the NOAA scientist, who has been conducting research on black tip and lemon sharks off St. John and St. Thomas for a decade.
“You have to wonder ‘What is the point,’” said DeAngelis. “I don’t see any benefit to what he is doing whatsoever. I don’t understand the point of it.”
“There are sports fishing operations in the industry targeting sharks which operate catch and release,” DeAngelis said. “I don’t understand killing the sharks and keeping the meat unless you are going to eat it and I’ve never heard of anyone eating tiger sharks.”
The exact impacts of Greaux’s shark hunting can not be quantified, explained DeAngelis.
“There really is no good stock assessment and without that you can’t predict the impact this will have on the population,” he said. “But again, you have to wonder what the point is.”
The end of the YouTube video shows Greaux measuring the lifeless bloody tiger shark, which measured about six feet, signifying it was not an adult, according to DeAngelis.
“To fish a shark legally, it has to be 54 inches, which is just under five feet,” he said. “So the shark was legal, technically, but it was far from an adult.”