San Francisco Bay is full of dangerous sharks, and “you need to catch them before they catch you” — that’s how one local recreational fishing company out of Fisherman’s Wharf puts it.
Several charter fishing operations in the Bay Area have websites with photos of people proudly raising long leopard sharks, soupfin sharks, threshers and the giant seven-gill sharks — sharks as long as the people holding them are tall.
What happens after that photo concerns conservationists, who say that too often shark carcasses are found on Fisherman’s Wharf and other piers, discarded after being caught, killed and photographed.
Shark fisheries are jointly regulated by the state, the federal government and a regional council. While a handful of sharks are protected — great white, megamouth and basking sharks, for example — most can be bagged with a permit, said Heidi Hermsmeyer, National Marine Fisheries Service coordinator.
While sharks can be legally fished, they are not often eaten, explained Christina Slager, director of husbandry for San Francisco’s Aquarium of the Bay. Sharks expel urine through their pores, meaning that uric acid permeates their muscles. If not cured correctly, the meat is not appetizing, she explained.
Greg Barron, director of West Coast shark operations for Incredible Adventure, takes scuba divers on cage dives to see sharks up close at no risk.
He said he is sickened by charters that advertise the “utter nonsense” that the Bay’s sharks are dangerous and “man-eaters.”
Shark fishing has become popular as other very large fish in the bay have become depleted.
“Sharks are easy, they are available still, and the fisheries for them are mostly unregulated,” Barron said. “This year, on our return from our first trip of the seasons … we came back to a dock full of dead leopard, seven-gill and soupfin sharks.”
James Smith, a second-generation boat captain in the Bay, said he takes people shark fishing and encourages them to eat their catch, advising them on how to best prepare the sharks.
“I would say some of the sharks rival halibut for flavor,” he said.
But he admitted many people are drawn to the adventure.
“People do it for the sport, for the challenge,” he said.