PALM BEACH COUNTY, Fla. – There’s a storm of controversy brewing over Palm Beach County this weekend.
A shark fishing tournament organized by local sports fishermen has sparked outrage by wildlife activists.
A healthy ocean needs a healthy shark population, and though globally sharks are being decimated with upwards of 70 million sharks being killed each year, anglers claim here in Florida, the shark population is thriving.
But shark advocates are pushing back, and 14-year-old Cade is one of them.
“Unfortunately there’s not too many people that are out there willing to help save these animals,” he said.
At just 9 years old, after going on his first dive with the ocean’s apex predator, Cade became an activist, determined to protect the planet’s rapidly dwindling shark population by using social media to sound the alarm.
Now his mission has urgently leapt off his Instagram to the front lines of a very real fight between conservationists and some Florida fishermen who claim the Atlantic waters of Palm Beach County have gotten way too sharky.
“There’s a very large population of sharks that we have right now outside of our coasts, that is, I would call it an abnormality,” said shark tournament organizer Jason, who did not want his last name used for this story.
Saturday’s tournament is bringing in anglers from Jupiter to Palm Beach, vying for cash prizes for those who catch the biggest sharks.
“The goal is basically just to show the government the number of sharks that we have out here,” said Jason.
For the past several years, Florida sports fishermen and fishing charter captains have grown increasingly frustrated with what they say is a dramatic uptick in sharks stealing and eating their catch before its reeled in.
“Somebody’s reeling in a sailfish, and there’s four or five bull sharks chasing the one sailfish,” said professional fisherman Robert Fly Navarro.
And though scores of videos and images support the fishermen’s claim, there is no scientific data to show a boom in Florida’s shark population.
Calypso Dive Charters owner Luis Roman says don’t believe the hype.
“When we go do the shark diving on our boats, we only see about six or seven sharks. That’s it,” he said.
Roman’s business serves clients that come in from all over the world for a cage-free shark dive experience. He says the problem isn’t more sharks in the ocean, it’s more boats.
“On any given day, you will have over 50 boats fishing in the area,” Roman said.
Since COVID, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission reports that 1 million recreational boats are now registered in the state of Florida, and with more people fishing these waters, it will naturally attract more sharks.
Shark expert Jim Abernathy agrees. He’s spent the past 24 years essentially living with sharks, diving with them 24 days a month.
Abernathy says don’t blame the sharks, they’re the ones keeping our oceans healthy and balanced by removing the dead, the dying, and the diseased. Instead, says Abernathy, blame the global overfishing of our oceans.
“The reason it’s more pronounced right now is because we have less fish,” said Abernathy. “Fish populations are declining all over the world because of our consumptive habits.”
Local 10 News’ Louis Aguirre asked Navarro if the imbalance could be that there are also less fish out there, so therefore, the fisherman and the shark are competing for the same resource.
“It could be, but again, there could be a plethora of things for them to eat, but they’re gonna go after the one that’s struggling,” Navarro said.
But that’s exactly what sharks are genetically programmed to do, to go after the weak and struggling fish and keep our seas free of disease.
Since many species of sharks are protected in Florida and federal waters, the tournament is only going after the migratory bull sharks.
Tournament organizer Jason said other species will be released and tagged so the data can be shared with scientists tracking the Atlantic shark population.
He was asked by Aguirre why sharks have to be killed at all.
“We’re not thinning the herd,” Jason replied. “There’s only a handful of sharks that are coming back to the scale.”
Still, activists say that’s a handful too many. This is not the only shark fishing tournament happening up and down the Atlantic coast and the Gulf this summer. Filmmaker Eli Roth exposed the global shark slaughter in his documentary Fin, and with 11,000 sharks being killed around the world every hour, Roth says these tournaments need to stop.
“All the evidence in the world that the shark populations are down by 90 percent, there’s 10 percent of what we had 20 years ago,” said Roth. “So really, you do the math, the sharks really don’t stand a chance if we continue this practice.”
For Cade, that’s simply not an option.
“To know that these fishermen are coming to kill the sharks, my sharks (that) I’ve been diving with for six years, makes me really upset,” he said.
Shark fishing is legal in Florida provided you play by the rules and only harvest approved sharks, one per fisherman or two per boat, whatever is less.
Organizers say the landed sharks will be turned over to scientists for data collection, but so far Local 10 News been unable to confirm this.
The FWC says it is monitoring the tournament to make sure no laws are broken.
Shark activists say they’ll be out there too.
So will a Local 10 News crew.
FWC Info on sharks and fishing: myfwc.com/fishing/saltwater/recreational/sharks/.
Petition to cancel the shark fishing tournament: https://www.change.org/p/myfwc-cancel-the-shark-killing-tournament-in-jupiter-florida
Cade’s Instagram account: https://www.instagram.com/cadesavessharks/?hl=en