SEVENSEAS Marine Conservation & Travel Issue 16, September 2016 - Page 40

to the changes that would give us healthy fisheries 10 years from now.” A big proponent of working with recreational and commercial fishermen to achieve this goal, he says one of the most effective ways of doing so is bringing scientists and fishermen together on the water.

Captain Mark Sampson is no stranger to this sort of collaboration, having conducted research expeditions, educational trips, and scientific studies aboard his charter fishing boat in Maryland and the Florida Keys. One such study involved comparing the effectiveness of circle-shaped hooks versus traditional J-shaped hooks in hooking sharks in the mouth, rather than the esophagus or stomach, which can cause more damage. The data Sampson collected showed that not only did circle hooks significantly increase the likelihood a shark would be hooked in the mouth, but that it would be hooked when taking the bait and remain on the line. This is important information for anglers reluctant to make the switch to circle hooks on the basis that doing so will affect their catch efficiency.

Even with only about 5 percent of sharks ending up gut-hooked with circle hooks, for Sampson, who catches 500-600 sharks in a season, that number jumped out at him. In response, he developed what he calls the blocker rig, essentially a piece of pipe attached to the line that prevents a shark from swallowing the bait. In his own experiments mimicking those of the circle hook study, Sampson proved the blocker rig effective at stopping virtually all gut hooking. His invention has since been adopted by scientists catching sharks for their research; he even once spotted it during a feature on Shark Week, being used on massive white sharks.

After 30 years as a captain, for Sampson, part of the motivation for becoming involved in conservation comes from fishing itself, “Maybe I see [sharks] differently than other people…because you’re catching them all the time, you see how vulnerable they are to being mistreated.”

Research like Sampson’s not only contributes to scientific knowledge and the development of better fishing practices, but helps bridge the gap between anglers and scientists. “Scientists need to show respect for fishermen’s knowledge,” Dr. Hueter says. “When you build a relationship based on respect and mutual interest, [fishermen] stop seeing scientists and government as people who want to regulate them, but as people who are trying to help, and become partners in conserving the resource.”

Photo 1: A blue shark, one of the most common species caught in the Northeastern U.S.

Credit: Kaelyn Lynch

Photo 3: A shark hooked using a "blocker rig"

Credit: Mark Sampson,

Photo 4: A great hammerhead shark

Credit: Albert kok,

Photo 2: Researchers measure a shark as part of their work at a tournament in Montauk, New York

Credit: Kaelyn Lynch

Photo 5: The tracking of a smooth hammerhead, "Elias," by satellite tag caught at the Shark's Eye Tournament

Credit: OCEARH,

Photo 6: A J-hook (left), compared to a circle hook (right)

Credit: Kaelyn Lynch