Shark Conservation in South Florida: Practices and Impacts

By on May 20, 2024
Great White Shark Great White Shark (Credit: Elias Levy via Flickr CC BY 2.0)

Sharks play an important ecological role as predators in marine ecosystems—loss of the species could lead to a boom in prey species leading to vegetation loss, overpopulation, and habitat degradation. While sharks have historically not been impacted by many of the same fishing-related conservation issues as other species, they are still harmed by unsustainable fishing practices.

Despite not being a popular food choice, sharks are still sometimes commercially fished, and finning (the act of removing only the shark’s fins and then releasing them) still occurs off the U.S. coast. Because sharks play a critical role in marine ecosystems, the conservation of the species is important to maintaining marine habitats.

Shark Conservation Practices

Like other aquatic species conservation, policies and management practices play a critical role in the long-term preservation of shark populations. Enforcement of local and international policies that restrict overfishing and, specifically, finning.

NOAA highlights habitat conservation, minimizing waste, full use of dead sharks, and encouraging sustainable fishing practices to protect populations. Implementation of these policies and support from the fishing community can help protect native shark populations for generations.

Shark conservation can be a tough sell compared to other seafood as long-term food solutions aren’t typically associated with sharks as much as salmon, cod, and other marine fish. However, sharks play an essential predator role in marine ecosystems, and a decline in sharks could lead to issues farther down the ecological chain.

Bringing a shark to the boat in a chartered shark fishing trip (Credit: SeaSquared Charters)

Bringing a shark to the boat in a chartered shark fishing trip (Credit: SeaSquared Charters)

The Role of Recreational Anglers in Shark Conservation

Shark charters have become quite popular as anglers seek to catch larger fish that present a challenge. While these charters can raise money for environmental conservation efforts, they can also be harmful, depending on whether the charter enforces sustainable practices or not.

SeaSquared Charters is one example of a fishing charter that takes folks out to fish for sharks specifically while supporting sustainable fishing and protecting the native shark population in the Florida Keys. The anglers pay to participate in the excursion, reel in the shark, snap a few photos, and then release the fish.

Shark-specific fishing charters that practice sustainability could be valuable to conservation in highly fished regions. David Shiffman, marine biologist at the University of Miami, published an article in 2014 that focused on how the public understood the role of sharks in South Florida.

“There was a very strong conservation ethic that we found among charter boat fishermen in Florida with respect to sharks,” Shiffman said. “The majority said that they always or almost always practice catch and release when fishing for sharks. Many expressed concerns about declining shark populations and how that would impact the ocean ecosystem.”

In order to combat this, Shiffman found that many of the shark charter captains practice catch-and-release, even in species that don’t legally require it. Still, even under a catch-and-release model, some shark populations can suffer. According to Shiffman, species like hammerheads are particularly bad candidates for catch-and-release because they usually die from the stress of fishing, even if they’re released.


While shark conservation is often not prioritized, protection of the species is essential to the Florida Keys ecosystem, and the loss of the species would ripple down the ecological chain. As many anglers already know, shark conservation is but one variable in the long-term efforts surrounding the protection of marine ecosystems.

Johnson releases all the sharks they catch (Credit: SeaSquared Charters)

Johnson releases all the sharks they catch (Credit: SeaSquared Charters)

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