Shark Fishing in Delaware … the rules clarified

blue shark in Delaware, deep blue mayhem, shark fishing
Blue Shark caught by Clay Harrison and released

(May 26, 2017) …THIS WAS WRITTEN THREE YEARS AGO IT STILL APPLIES.  Know the rules!  Old articles are open to the public.

Yesterday I was rewriting an article I did last year when I interviewed Fish and Wildlife Enforcement.  Many people are catching prohibited sharks and removing them from the water which is illegal in Delaware.  Coincidentally while I was doing this a young man was bitten by a shark at Cape Henlopen state park at the swimming beach.  This was not a shark attack as people think of a shark attack.  It was probably a small sandbar shark.  We are glad the young man is fine and in good spirits.  Do not let this discourage you from swimming in the tidal waters of Delaware.  Sharks live in the ocean, you have a better chance of being trampled by a cow than bitten by a shark.  With that being said I am sure many people are going to want to go shark fishing from the surf or boats.  The interview below will help clarify the rules for prohibited  sharks in Delaware.  Since the article below was written a year ago, Delaware now has a shark identification site, you should look at this to help ID sharks you may catch.   Prohibited species are the following … Sandbar shark, sand tiger, Atlantic angel shark, basking shark, bigeye sand tiger, bigeye sixgill shark, bigeye thresher, bignose shark, Caribbean reef shark, Caribbean sharpnose shark, dusky shark, Galapagos shark, longfin mako, narrowtooth shark, night shark, sevengill shark, sixgill shark, smalltail shark, whale shark, white shark.   Sandtiger, sandbar, and dusky are the most commonly caught in the near shore tidal waters.

(written last year but still stands, 2016) …. I have been working on getting some better information to the anglers about shark fishing in Delaware and the rules that need to be followed.  We all have our own ways of interpreting the guide book, or anything for that matter, and the information put in there is vague, but it is hard to get all the information in the guide book.  There are more detailed rules for handling sharks online at the DNREC website.  I took it upon myself to speak with some of the boys from enforcement the other day.  I wanted to get some clarifications for rules, especially concerning the surf.  Many people send me shark pictures each week, and honestly ninety nine percent of them are illegal catches.  I will explain why in this interview with DNREC Fish and Wildlife enforcement.

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Sandtiger shark swallowing a dog fish photo from University of Delaware ORB Lab

I met Sergeant Troy Trimmer and Sergeant Greg Rhoades the other day for an interview about clarifying the rules for shark fishing and possession.  There are a few in the guide book, but again how the angler interprets these are up to them.  The officers know this, and told me they can not put all of the rules in the guide book.  The guidelines per Delaware State law are online at and after reading them they would definitely not fit in the book, and would take a few paragraphs to explain.  Though the laws are more detailed on the State of Delaware’s site, there are a few that need to be clarified for the surf or shore angler.  I asked the officers to help out so there is no more confusion.  I would like to thank the officers for meeting me and taking a day away from their normal routine.  These boys spend a lot of time on the go trying to enforce the state’s laws.  They have a tough job, and I learned just how tough as the interview progressed.  The word proactive came up a few times, let’s face it they deal with people who have knives and/or guns all day, it was a good point.
 The guide book states that the shark is to be immediately released, what is the definition of immediately released?  
“As soon as the shark is identified, it is to be immediately released if it is a prohibited species, if you do not know then immediately let it go”.  

What is meant by maximum probability of survival?
  “sharks that are beached might have a 50/50 chance of surviving.  This rule was put into use a few years ago when many sharks were washing up onto the beaches in Ocean City, MD.  We found that the ones that were being caught in the surf in Delaware and beached, were dying.  The weight of the animal crushes its internal organs and the shark may swim away only to die later from injuries sustained due to the beaching process, and then wash up on public beaches.  Once the rule was in effect and enforced the sharks stopped washing up on the beaches”.

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Sand Tiger shark caught near Lewes, DE measuring roughly 10 – 11 feet.
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I know that beaching a shark is prohibited  by the rules concerning prohibited species, due to the fact that would be removing the animal from the water.  Where do you consider the water to end, and the beach to begin?  (boaters are not to remove the shark from the water either).  The whitewater in the surf is the closest to shore you can bring in the shark, the definition of land comes into play here”

Where exactly is that?  The wash, as I have always called it, is where the sand is exposed between waves is that considered the white water?
  No, the whitewater is in just that, the whitewater where the waves flatten out behind the first wave.  This way the shark is still in the water at all times.  Remember as the animal must be identified first it is not to be removed from the water in case it is a prohibited species”.   

Is it illegal to fish for or target prohibited species? 

I have heard of some people being fined for pictures with prohibited species out of water, is this a fine-able offense? 
 ” Yes it is considered possession of a prohibited species in Delaware“.

What are the fines involved if one does ?
  The fines can be from $76.50 to $700 including court costs.  The actual fine itself is $25″.

  That seems rather cheap considering the fines for other offenses in Delaware.
 “Yes, that is something we would like to see raised so it is more of a deterrent”.    

sandtiger shark, prohibited sharks in Delaware,
Sandtiger shark caught and released… photo by Jerry Taylor

This information is what I really wanted to know, and I thanked the officers for taking the time to clarify some of these regulations.  I tell people all of the time, that they are sending me pictures that are illegal.  I hope this backs up those statements.  I did  ask the boys what information they would like to put out there for the angler.  Aside from this clarification of the rules that would help them (in enforcement) and Delaware anglers keep to the rules.  Their main concern is conservation of resources.  The Delaware bay is a breeding ground for many of these sharks, particularity the sand tiger shark.  One of the things they wondered is it really necessary to catch a shark?  Since many are protected, this is their nursery, and their numbers are on the decline.  They see plenty of people out there shark fishing that do it the right way, like getting waist to chest deep in the water to release the animal.  Charter captains, like Brian Wazlavek have a true respect for the animal, and take great care in the release after catching a shark.  I can attest to the fact that releasing the sharks while in the water is probably more thrilling than actually catching.  Just get waist to chest deep one time with a ten foot sand tiger shark, and you will know what I am talking about.  The term pucker up comes to mind.   Playing cowboy so you can brag to your friends, or take a picture with the mouth pulled back and a beer can on its head is not respectful of the shark caught.  This is also not true fishing, in my opinion.

largest mako shark in Delaware, shark fishing from boats,
317 lb mako shark caught by Thomas Dukes

The officers are not saying they want to see shark fishing shut down, but there is always that one person that messes it up for everyone else.  For the most part people have respect for the creatures they are catching.  “There is just always that two to five percent that make it a problem for everyone”.  If the rules are not followed at any time, anything can be shut down, and this is true for any regulated industry.  Recreational fishing is a very large part of this community, and we don’t need more legislation creating more rules.  The majority of anglers are good people and follow the rules.  A good way an angler can help with these sharks is to study the species and be able to identify them.  If you don’t know let it go.  That is good advice, if you don’t know what you are fishing for it would be a good idea to study up on what you are dealing with.  I receive many pictures each week of misidentified sharks.  Bull sharks and sandbar sharks are confused the most.  I hope this clarifies any confusion with the rules and regulations regarding shark fishing in the future, from the surf.  One thing that was mentioned is the fact many people are not wearing their PFD’s when they are kayaking out bait.  Please be sure to wear your PFD (Personal Flotation Device).  When I asked what they thought of using a boogie board to take out baits, the response was a roll of the eyes and some laughter.  “Well, that is one way to go if you want to get bit”  Apparently that is not a good idea either.  Remember when it comes to our toothy friends, if you do not know, let it go.  If you want a picture of you with a shark while releasing it in the surf, have a friend take the picture, and do not pose for the picture. Shark Regulations (code) in the State of Delaware

Fish On!!
Rich King

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