Author: Bullbuster Team
Colby Uva (Founder Of Bullbuster)
17 March 2010
“ 9am Durban, South Africa…Finally the thing he had caught was dragged ashore. It was a 764 pound blue pointer shark, better known in other parts of the world as the great white or man eater shark… the boy managed a small victory, but five hours of scrubbing on the concrete pier had taken its toll on his body…Across the ocean from him a Jacksonville, Florida shark fisherman spent three days and nights sleeping on a concrete bridge walk waiting for a shark to take his bait. When it did, it took 500 yards... of the anglers line as well…near Panama City an angler hooked a large shark…the harnessed angler asked bystanders to hold onto him… they advised him to cut the wire … he refused. At the lines end, the angler was snatched from their grasp, whisked down the pier and catapulted over the railing, breaking the line as he hit the water” (Burgess 87)
At 13, my neighborhood friend and I ride our bikes to a local Marina called Matheson Hammock. Without the boat, this summer has consisted of fishing for the stingrays that come to the cleaning station looking for fish carcasses. We hide our bikes and begin to fish for the hard fighting southern ray, landing several, while losing even more. As the sun sinks beyond the mangroves, the guard comes to kick us out. “The park closes at sundown”, he says pointing at the sign we blatantly ignored. Acting innocent we tell him that our parents are on their way. Skeptical, the guard gets back into his truck and drives away. This is the moment we have been waiting for.
Pulling out a wire rig that I have just finished sloppily twisting, we hook a snapper head on, and toss it out into the darkness. An hour later, the moment arrives. “ZZZZZZZZZZZZ” sings my small conventional reel as line disappears from its spool and into the darkness. I set the hook and the battle is on. Fifteen minutes later I see two dorsal fins protrude from the water and coming into the light. As I see the 6 foot lemon shark come along side the dock, I’m hooked for life.
I’m 18, I walk into the local tackle store brandishing a picture of a 300lb bull shark I captured and released on a recent fishing expedition. Gabriel at the cash register hands me a bumper sticker saying “South Florida Shark Club” with a website inscribed on its bottom. As he is rings up my various hooks and wire leaders, he tells me, “You should meet these people, because they’re pretty good at what they do”. Logging onto southfloridasharkclub.com, I feel as if I have undug a culture, a piece of history, and a legacy.
May 2009, Alex and I drive up to Delray Beach to meet the club members for the first time. Arriving at the beach, my eyes light up; I know I have come to the right place. large Penn Senator reels line the beach for about a 100 yard stretch, many of them 14/0’s the reels used by Cpt. Quint in the movie Jaws. I meet Shannon Bustamante, known by many club members as Seaweed, a name that was passed down from his deceased father who was one of the original “South Bleachers”. Shannon greets me, making me feel like I have joined a club family, and introduces me to the other members here at the beach. Amongst them are his wife, two-year-old daughter, Hammer (a legend among club members and a founding member), Aaron, Kim, Meir, and many others. The sense of community amongst these people is held together by shark fishing makes this group of people quite unique.
After joining the club, my infection of what many members refer to as “the fever” spills over to a whole new level. Many people do not understand how ‘infected’ people can spend hours waiting on the beach, maybe weeks, without a hit, searching for that monster: to them I say, go out and hook a 400-500lb shark, and if you can deal with the adrenaline, and still can’t understand, then I won’t waste my time.
“Shark fever is the fanatical, almost uncontrollable urge to fight big sharks on hook and line. It is big game fishing on a shoestring. There may be a safer, more spectacular fish to fight, and fancier more expensive ways to fight them, but few forms of angling provide so much difficulty, diabolical unpredictability and dramatic results in one sport as does the sport of shark fishing” (Burgess 88).
Searching for that monster 14-foot 1,000-pound Hammerhead or that 1,500-pound tiger is what you put in the time for. Sitting on the 7-mile bridge waiting for that big hit and listening to the stories of the old timers who fished every night in the 70’s on the old South Beach Pier, makes me want to go back in time.
Will Fundura: President of the South Florida Shark Club in the early 90’s on a shark fishing expedition to the Bahamas with Miami Herald reporter Mary Voribil and photographer Al Diaz.
I meet Will, the president of the South Florida Shark Club, at his pawnshop warehouse off 103 street to interview him. Greeted by his wife who I have met on several occasions, I am asked to wait in his office. Around me I see countless old pictures of tiger sharks, hammerheads, and past fishing trips. The walls are full of old tournaments that he and the club have hosted and or participated, and to do lists of what he needs to do for the club.
I ask Will how he caught the shark fever. He says he used to go down to the old South Beach Pier on 5th street, and one day he saw Rene de Dios, a small but boisterous man who seemed to be king of the pier. He watched Rene sitting in his “monster hole” (the south tip of the pier which seemed to be reserved for Rene and his rods) and was impressed by the huge reels that Rene was using to consistently bring giant sharks to the beach. He describes Rene as a “Firebrand of shark fishing…his whole essence was shark fishing and doing things that had never been done before…as a great story teller he would always have a crowd of people around him listening… entranced in the tale of one of the many big hammers that had burned him”. Willy says after watching these epic battles, and hearing all of Rene’s crazy stories, he said to himself, “ I wana do this”, and he did.
In the next chapter of our interview, William tells me how the club was started. He and Rene had the idea to put the club together by the late 60’s, at first calling it the South Beach Shark Club, as Rene and many others were very proud of the sharks caught from their hometown pier. “Rene was the engine and I was the brain”, says Will, reminiscing on the past. “Those were the days before Internet, so I would go to my girl friend’s house to type up newsletters and then send them out so that club members would be up to date on the current catches”. Will still puts together a semi –annual newsletter but he says he does so out of tradition rather then necessity as most club members are quite up to date with everything that has been caught.
Will says, after a conversation with his brother and seeing other fisherman’s websites, “It seemed like a no brainer, to pour into this new website all the passion for the sport, bringing in the incredible history (with pictures & stories as proof) of so many awesome shark hunters in our midst… The great group of guys who have been part of the shark club for so many years served as the foundation for our site. Sharing our adventures and teaching what we have learned made it a very gratifying undertaking” (Fundura 2009).
Sitting in this room, I begin to realize how this man has truly dedicated his life to this sport and culture. Will does not make a profit for all the work he does for the club. If anything, most of what the man does he does out of pocket, out of a love for his sport and the club members that have shared so many memories with him. Pinned to his wall is a checklist of pictures he must find and upload to the websites archives. Frank Mundus, Vic Hislop, Lee Cammon, Herb Goodman, Mike Palmer, Alfred Dean, Bob Dyer and Capt Bill Goldsmith have all been checked off, leaving Ed Dyer, and Walter Maxwells world record 1780lb tiger to be documented. The post its and lists that cover the walls of the room look overwhelming. Not many people are able to do all that Will does; this definitely does not look like a one-man type of job.
(Above) Rene De Dios, Seaweed, Shannon and second generation shark club members with a large Bull Shark (Below) Shannon with his 2009 Bridge Club Record 12’2’’ Hammer
At the anglers’ meeting for the upcoming Big Hammer Challenge, a shark tournament that the club has put on for the past three years, I interviewed Shannon Bustamante about his origins in the club. He says, “My father was more of a diver, it was really Rene started to bring me around shark fishing, he would tell my dad to bring me to the South Beach Boardwalk to see everyone shark fishing.” Remembering his childhood, he says some of his first memories were watching Rene and Willy’s shark rods scream line as large sharks battled to the beach. He grew up going to the clubs’ gatherings and watching as members received trophies, and remembers as a small child how he and shark club legend, Hammer’s children promised themselves that they would someday be like Rene and the other shark hunters.
As I interview Shannon, some of the other shark club members, old and new gather around to listen and contribute to the conversation. Shannon pauses, and Julio, another original “South Beacher”, jumps in, “ The first time I went on to the South Beach Pier, I was about 18, or 19, a shark rod got a hit and I didn’t know anything about fishing, but I picked it up anyways, and this guy Rene comes running, yelling what the @%&*!, I was hooked after that day”. A second-generation club member, Johnny Fuqua says, “Yea, everyone knew not to touch Rene’s shark rod”, all the old club members chuckle.
I was entranced by Rene’s escapades. A short list of Rene’s lifetime adventures include him catching a 14 foot Hammerhead from the South Beach Pier, refusing to give in to a shark on south beach as it took all 1000 yards of 130 pound test line from his 16/0 Penn Senator, he jumped into a small boat fighting the shark for the whole night only to loose it as the coast guard boat that had been sent out to find him forced him to cut the line on his half sunken boat. This was not the only time a shark brought him close to death, in the 90’s he was rescued in the Gulf Stream by a cruise ship, his boat had been capsized by the sheer power of a shark that he had been fighting for over 24 hours. He later told reporters he thought it might have been a Great White. Some may ask why would go through all this just to land a shark, I will tell you that such dedication only comes with a special breed of shark fisherman.
The shark fever took its final grips on Rene in 2003, but not before he passed it along to the many lives that he touched. “He would fish so hard … the hard nights sleeping on bridges and on the boat were to much for him… his legs would swell up…the diabetes was getting worse but he didn’t care… all he wanted to do was catch sharks.” (Fundura 2009). Rene’s life may not have followed the path of the average middle class American, he did what he loved until the very end.
The fever Rene left still runs deep in the veins of those he knew, in some circling their core and forming their identity as a shark hunter. The modern shark fisherman can still be found camped out on the beaches at night, or sitting on the old Flagler Overseas Highway bridges, waiting for the bull shark “the most common large shark in near shore coastal waters” (Snelson), the tiger shark “ a summer visitor along the eastern coast of the United States” (Randall), or the Great Hammerhead, who they hope for because of his immense size and mystical fighting abilities. Yet these modern fisherman has also evolved, hoping to pass the fever to the next generation, they release the sharks they catch, as experience shows that their quarries numbers have dwindled.
To the shark fisherman, a live shark is worth 100 times more then a dead one. In the future, both will procreate and that new generation will meet in battle, man versus shark. Sometimes the man will win, bringing the shark up on the beach taking a picture and then releasing him or her back to the ocean as a courtesy for providing a great battle. Sometimes the shark will win, leaving the fisherman with sore limbs, and racing thoughts as to what mistakes he or she made, as a courtesy for providing the shark with a nice snack. In this way the fisherman and the shark become interconnected, the fisherman will fight for the shark’s survival, for both of their survivals are interlinked
Using the book, Sharks Wanted! Dead or Alive, published in 1970, I was able to establish a phylogeny for both shark fisherman and shark conservationalists; surprisingly they both have a common ancestor, one who was immersed in the cultural fear of sharks introduced by the blockbuster Jaws. The book talks about how the US Government put together a committee of scientists in the mid 60’s in order to reduce the number of shark attacks; their solution was to reduce the number of sharks. Shark fisherman were hired out and celebrated as heroes’, the more they killed the better. Looking at pictures of the old University of Miami kill tournaments, I see pictures of hundreds of sharks that shark fisherman killed for scientists such as world renowned shark experts like Dr. Sony Gruber, in the name of research. Examining tournament results, I am astonished for I have never heard of so many large sharks being caught in one weekend.
Today with dwindling populations of sharks, and sharks finally gaining some positive images in the public eye, both scientists and shark fisherman are taking some of the right steps towards conservation. Yet there is still a lot of progress to be made, and unfortunately sharks still “fall victim to the man-hungry stereotype that society has created for them” (Griffin). Most people living in ocean side communities support the plight of sharks, yet most of the time this attitude only remains as long as the sharks remain out of sight. This attitude has helped conservationalists and boat based fisherman tremendously, yet makes the lives of the more transparent land-based shark fisherman much harder. Land-based shark fisherman, such as the South Florida Shark Club, endure constant criticism and attacks.
I kayak a shark bait out at the beach in Puerto Vallarta Mexico as the sun sets, and am kindly told by a hotel representative that there are no sharks here in the Pacific. I reply to him, telling him that his statement is untrue, and he then more sternly tells me to remove my bait from the water. The tourist industry remains scared of the word shark, instead of educating their customers of the oceans beautiful ecosystems, they prefer an ignorant bliss that allows money to flow into their hands like the crashing waves on their beaches.
Summer July 2009, shark fishing is being banned in Delray Beach, Florida. I take my seat in the courtroom and the proceedings begin. Less then 10 people show up to support the ban and at least 30-shark fisherman have traveled from around the state to speak up against this ban. The accusations coming from the resident who has allegedly filed the complaint are shark fisherman have chummed these beaches in order to bring sharks closer to the beach, because chum bags have been found on the beach, and that people have found dead fish washed ashore, which are obviously shark fisherman’s baits.
Several weeks before, Will, Shannon, Eddie and I arrive at Delray Beach and meet Nina and her photographer Jim from the Sun Sentinel. They seem sympathetic to our cause and explain to us that Nina had come across the proposed banning in a small section of the agenda for the next city counsel meeting. It seems as if the city wanted to just sweep this small nuisance quietly underneath the table without any notice, for they had not made any public announcements as to the issue.
We show Nina and Jim how we fish, everything from rigging the bait, to how we kayak baits out anywhere from 100 to 500 yards off the coastline. We do not chum like many people on boats do, but instead must put in time on the beach, waiting for a shark that happens to be swimming by to pick up our bait. When asked about fish that wash up on the shore, Will explains to her that it’s a beach, with the right tides and winds fish are bound to end up on the beach. I tell Nina how most of my friends from school, are out at a kegger right now partying and probably pretty drunk or high, but this is what I’m usually doing on my weekends.
We catch an eight foot lemon shark, a sandbar shark around 250lbs, and two huge nurses that night, and with the story Nina writes, we make the front page of the Sunday paper. “South Florida Shark Club Enjoys Shark-fishing From Beaches”, a large colored photo depicted us releasing a 9-foot nurse shark back into the water takes up half of the page. I feel like a celebrity. Everything is good, and people will understand. This is what we all thought.
A women supporting the ban stands up at the podium and speaks about how shark populations are declining and how no one should be shark fishing. In passing she mentions long lining, which is where commercial boats put out miles of line containing thousands of hooks and press a button on a winch that brings in tons upon tons of sharks aboard, merely to chop off their fins for the Chinese Shark fin market, in passing, but mainly focuses how my friends and I are “monsters” who torture and kill sharks.
For the next 45 minutes, shark fisherman speak on the podium. They speak about their passion for shark fishing, how like all fisheries, the old days had been a hay-day where everyone killed their catch and how this attitude was rapidly shifting to the new more modern attitude of catch and release, how we’ve even helped scientists to tag the sharks, and how we‘ve been wanting to begin efforts to stop the long lining of sharks for their fins. A fisherman’s wife stands up and speaks of her husband’s passion. A mother stands up, with tears glistening in her eyes, and speaks about how she always knows where she could find her son and that he ‘s out of harms way because he’s always on the beach fishing. Many emotional speeches followed her speech including Josh from Canada who comes here to Florida in order to shark fish and hosts the annual Blacktip Challenge to. I can feel the emotion emanating from each and every speech.
I work up the courage to step up onto the podium. Everything goes blurry, and I get a headache. I’m so nervous I can barely focus in front of all these people, reporters, and television crews. I say what I had told Nina about how instead of drinking and partying like other high school students, that I spent my time fishing on the beaches. I tell them that it would be pointless for us to try to chum up sharks from the beach and that none of us do, since we paddle our baits out at east 150 yards from shore. I tell them how we waited for nightfall to fish, when no one was in the water. I tell them how I’m going into college for marine science, and that I have released every shark that I have caught and had even been working to start tagging them for research. To end my speech, I tell them that this is my true passion in life, and I cannot understand how anyone would want to take that away from me. After my speech, I sit down, my head is throbbing, and I wait for the verdict.
Most shark fisherman today practice strictly catch and release, maybe keeping a small shark or two a year for table fair. “The demand for shark fins is arguably the most important determinant of the fate of shark populations around the world[…]data suggests that between 26 and 73 million sharks are traded annually”(MRE). These fins are used to make a Chinese delicacy called yu chi soup, the direct translation of yu chi, is “fish wing”. “The older generation is, most likely to insist on traditional practices of serving shark fins[…]and to be unaware that[…]”fish wing”[…] actually derives from sharks” (MRE). “Ironically the shark fins themselves do not contribute to the taste of the soup which is basically just chicken broth”(Bird). Were these conservation lists and concerned citizens focusing on the real issue?
All eight council members unanimously vote for the ban on the basis that chumming their beaches is unacceptable, and that sharks scare away tourists, but not a word about conservation is mentioned. Eighty percent of the people that have spoken tonight have traveled over an hour to defend shark fishing in the city of Delray, one as far as Canada. Are we not tourists? Do we not contribute to the economy of The City of Delray Beach? How could chumming be such a determining factor in the outcome of this trial, when the evidence showed such activity did not occur? This whole thing has been pre-decided. Us coming here with hopes of our words affecting anything was foolish, and there was nothing we could have done to change the outcome. The eight people who showed up to support the ban hadn’t even needed to speak, the whole thing had been a formality, the word shark had sealed the deal.
Two pregnant dead sharks wash up on the beach on Florida’s east coast. A team of shark conservationalist is called to the scene to take samples, and remove the sharks from the vicinity. The researchers cut open the sharks, laying their pups on the concrete, to take photos of the now mutilated mothers and their lifless babies. Another opportunity for publicity and propoganda. The finger must be pointed, and the blame lands upoun the South Florida Shark Club, and other land based shark fisherman.
In they’re blog, they post the pictures, and the reactions flow in. Joanne Zerafa says, “I feel shark fishing should be a criminal offense.” Adam Matulik steps in to say to say that the group does “promote responsible the catch and release of sharks from boats. Any other kind of shark fishing is not sustainable and needs to stop”. “I wish I understood the ignorance in people and why they do this.” says Ulices Diaz. The tactic has served its purpose, yet a bridge is being burned.
All fishermen who practice catch and release fishing, unfortunately have some level of mortality. This applies to all species that are part of catch and release fisheries, such as, billfish, bonefish, tarpon, bass, etc. To deny this fact is in itself ignorant. “The fate of a released fish is of general interest in many aspects of fisheries research” (Hoenig). Scientists, who tag sharks for research, boat-based fisherman, and the land-based fisherman, all experience mortalities. By attacking the land-based fisherman constantly, the scientists loose the trust of and cooperation of one of their biggest allies.
Together, by putting aside their differences, these three groups of people can work together to make great strides for the shark. All three have something to bring out onto the table. The scientists use the great tool known as the scientific method, the most objective form of acquisition of knowledge known to man, and compile information that will be of value to conservationists for years to come. The boat-based fishermen are a great resource, as they have compiled years of knowledge through experience on the water and usually have the ability to help fund great research. The land-based fishermen also contributes their knowledge, while usually lacking the monetary funds, they bring something great to the table; their transparency and close proximity to the public are their weakness and greatest strength, through his proximity, they have the ability to show the public, the beauty and majesty of the shark in person instead of through a television screen. The shark fever runs strongly through this triumvirate, they have one common interest, to see the great predators of the ocean thrive. Only together can the scientists and the fisherman save the shark, for they are both conservationists at heart.
Bird, Johnathan, dir. Sharks: Predators with a Purpose. Oceanic Research Group, 2007.
Burgess, Robert. The Sharks. Garden City, New York: Doubleday & Company Inc, 1970. Print.
Bustamante, Shannon. Personal INTERVIEW. 24 March 2010.
Fundura, William. Personal INTERVIEW. 18 February 2010.
Fundura, William. "Land-Based Shark Fishing History." Southfloridasharkclub.com. 29 Jul 2009. SFSC, Web. 18 Feb 2010.
Fundura, William. "Rene De Dios... The King of Sharks." Southfloridasharkclub.com. 29 Jul 2009. SFSC, Web. 18 Feb 2010.
Fuqua, Johnny. Personal INTERVIEW. 24 March 2010.
Griffin, E., Miller, K.L., Freitas, B. and Hirshfield, M. “Predators as Prey: Why Healthy Oceans Need Sharks.” Oceana (2008).Web. 26 March 2010
Huerter, Robert, Charles Heuter, Charles Manire, John Hoenig, and Daniel Hepworth. "Assessing Mortality of Released or Discarded Fish, Using a Logiststic Model of Relative Survival Dervived from Tagging Data." ASFA: Aquatic Sciences & Fisheries Abstracts (2005): n. pag. Web. 4 Mar 2010.
MRE Foundation Inc., . "Social, Economic, and Regulatory Drivers of the Shark Fin Trade." Marine Resource Economics (2007): n. pag. Web. 4 Mar 2010.
Randall, John. "Review of the Biology of the Tiger Shark." Aust. J Mar. Freshwater Res 43.21-31 (1992): n. pag. Web. 4 Mar 2010.
"Sad day for sharks: 2 Pregnant sharks killed from destructive fishing (49 sharks killed total)." RJ Dunlap Conservation Program Blog. RJ Dunlap Conservation Program, 5/4/10. Web. 4 May 2010.
Snelson, Franklin, Timothy Mulligan, and Sherry Williams. "Food Habitats, Occurrence, an Population Structure Of The Bull Shark, Carchaharinus Leucus, In Florida Coastal Waters." Bulletin Of Marine Science 34.71-80 (1984): 71-80. Web. 4 Mar 2010.
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