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Don't Kill the Golden Goose
by Jim Hendricks
Isurus oxyrhinchus
NOAA Southwest Fisheries
Mako sharks approaching 1,000 pounds thrive in Southern California's offshore waters, and in recent years, some anglers have become proficient at landing these big fish. But does that mean they should kill them?

The July 4th holiday is almost always accompanied by news stories about sharks, and this year was no exception in Southern California. One story on KPBS.org reported that great white sharks -- particularly yearling pups -- are thriving along the coast, as a result of state fishing bans for this species, which took effect years ago. The other story on the local NBC website focused on an estimated 900-pound mako shark brought in to Marina del Rey. (The fish broke the scale, so getting an accurate weight was not possible.)

Interestingly, these stories brought to light the opposite ends of shark fisheries management -- one highly regulated, the other virtually unregulated -- and I wondered if we shouldn't have more moderate regulations for both of these apex predators. 

While the NBC report made a big deal of the big mako, individuals this large are fairly common in Southern California offshore waters, especially in summer. Like the great whites, big females have come to this part of the Pacific for millions of years to give birth, making this coastal region a nursery for makos, as well as great whites.

In past decades, the recreational take of big makos was relatively low, simply because their immense size made them very diffcult to land. But recently, a handful of angling crews have developed the techniques and skills to capture these large breeders. I know because my son, Joshua Hendricks, was a member of Team Strike Zone, which landed a number of big makos and won the Shark Hunters -- East vs. West televised mako tournament series.

Yet just because anglers have become more proficient at brining these fish boatside, should they should kill them? To me, the obvious answer is no. Just as anglers release big marlin, I believe that Southern California shark fishermen should develop the ethic of releasing big makos. And here's why:

1. If anglers don't begin regulating themselves, the California Department of Fish and Game will step in, and we might end up with a complete ban on makos, as with great whites.

2. For the mako population to continue to thrive, we need the big breeders. Killing them is analogous to killing the goose that laid the golden eggs.

3. Like great whites, big makos eat sea lions. I know. I've seen it happen. The population of sea lions is exploding off the Southern California coast, and the big sharks can help control these pinnipeds.

Releasing big makos is a win-win-win for everybody. If you want keep a mako for food, I have no issues with that. Take one of the smaller fish; they taste great. But let the big ones continue to breed.