The sea in KwaZulu-Natal abounds with a wide variety of fish, many of which are esteemed for their palatability. Shore and boat angling is one of the largest recreational activities in the province. Traditionally all sharks and their cartilaginous relatives, the skates and rays, have been regarded as inedible. Recreational anglers participating in competitions often target sharks and rays because of their large size. The ethic of releasing these animals alive is well entrenched and is actively encouraged by the KZNSB. If possible, anglers should tag their catch. The following advice is aimed at promoting tag and release:
Tackle and hooking technique
Use single, mild steel hooks and flatten the barb with a pair of pliers. Strike early to hook the shark in the mouth. Do not allow the shark to swallow the bait.
The animal's condition when it comes out of the water
Keep the fight as short as possible to reduce the build up of lactic acid and carbon dioxide in the shark's blood and muscles. A shark which has been fought for 2 hours is so exhausted that its chances of survival are low. Unfortunately, a "green" shark can be very lively and may be difficult to handle.
Avoid using a gaff, particularly in the sensitive areas of the head (brain damage), belly (liver and stomach damage) and tail area (major blood vessels run in this area). The best spot to gaff sharks is either through the base of the dorsal fin or in the flesh around the dorsal fin.
Some species are agile enough to turn around and bite. Never grab, drag or carry a shark by its tail. Do not drag the shark over the sand/rocks. Two people are required to carry larger shark safely (for the animal and for the handler): one person on each side holds the base of the pectoral fin, whilst holding the tail in a level position. Don't pick up hammerhead sharks by the head (may damage eyes and sensory organs).
Handling the shark on the beach.
Speed on the beach is essential. Tagging equipment must be ready when the shark is close to being landed. Proceed in the following order:
Remove the hook. Hooks in the throat usually require the use of a hook remover. If the hook is completely swallowed, simply cut the trace and don't bother to tag.
Weighing will add to the capture stress. If weighing is essential, support the shark in a hammock, sheet or small-mesh net. Avoid netting that may cut into the gills or eyes.
If the shark appears to be very weak its survival rate will be low and it should not be tagged, especially if it is bleeding excessively. If it looks strong, measure and tag the animal. Measure precaudal length in a straight line parallel to the body. Tag the animal according to the instructions in the tagging kit and make sure that the tag and applicator are clean and rust free. Record all information immediately. A wet towel over the shark's head and a foot on both pectoral fins will restrict the movements of the shark during tagging.
The more time the shark spends out of the water the longer its recovery time and the lower its chance of survival. While out of the water sharks suffer from a lack of oxygen. Also, there is a risk of damage to internal organs because sharks do not have bones and rely on the water to support their bodies.
The animal's condition when it is released back into the water
After tagging, carry the animal back into water that is as deep as possible. Allow the shark to recover by holding it in the water and walking with it to get water flowing over its gills. Avoid using rock pools with warm water or water polluted by bait.
Many anglers think that the fact that the animal swam off is a good indicator that it will survive. A weak, stressed, bleeding, brain-damaged animal will swim away but will either end up as live shark food or succumb to the effects of capture stress. Only sharks with a high chance of survival should be tagged. Tagged animals that die soon after release will have a huge effect on the calculations scientists make when analysing recapture data.