This article comes from the Bent Fishing Podcast’s “Fish News” segment, where hosts Joe Cermele and Miles Nolte go head-to-head to find and report the most interesting and amusing fishy stories across sources far and wide—from respected scientific journals to trashy tabloids.
Joseph Wilson had never seen a tiger shark before. So, when the 22-year-old from Lutz, Florida, saw a boat come up the Chassahowitzka River dragging one by the tail, he asked to take a photo with it. The image immediately went viral after he posted it to social media.
Although he technically had nothing to do with catching the shark, “people are chewing me a new one right now,” Wilson told the Citrus County Chronicle. Maybe he should have expected that.
Wilson quickly learned that it is unlawful to land, harvest, possess, purchase, sell, or exchange tiger sharks according to Florida Fish & Wildlife Commission regulations. While he didn’t necessarily play a role in the illegal capture of the shark, his face is associated with the crime. “I called FWC myself,” Wilson claimed.
According to an unnamed witness, one of the men who caught the shark gutted it in the river, spilling blood into the water where people were swimming and recreating. “You can’t torture an animal like that, number one. And you have to know what species you are allowed to harvest and what species you’re not,” the witness said.
While Wilson is dealing with criticism and the wrath of the Internet, the two men associated with the illegal catch are facing second-degree misdemeanors.
“The FWC is aware of the incident that took place over the weekend on the Chassahowitzka River involving a tiger shark,” FWC spokeswoman Karen Parker said in a statement. “The FWC takes this very seriously and is grateful to everyone who reported this incident.”
According to Fox 13, FWC used images from social media to identify the suspects and have issued “notices to appear” but have not yet publicly identified the individuals.
Beyond the legal and ethical ramifications of these Floridian’s actions, Wilson included, they undermine legitimate shark fishing in Florida.
“Sharks are a huge part of the fishing culture in Florida. They always have been,” said Joe Cermele, host of B-Side Fishing and MeatEater’s senior fishing editor. “Florida has a thriving land-based shark fishing scene. I’ve fished with some of the veterans that have been doing this for many years, and the good guys—the smart ones, I should say—understand that public perception of their sport matters.”
Joe says that the hardcore shark community goes out of their way to avoid this kind of bad press.
“The smart guys go out of their way to not draw too much attention to what they are doing. They fish at night, prioritize a fast, healthy release, seek out beaches with less tourist traffic, and leave no evidence by way of blood, bait, or trash that let all the swimmers and sunbathers know they were there the night before. There are so many legitimate shark fishermen in Florida, but actions like this will do nothing but paint them in a bad light.”
The charges to be brought against the men who killed the tiger shark will likely act as some deterrent against future behavior like that.