Controversial shark fishing tournament draws criticism from activists

PALM BEACH COUNTY, Florida. – Nearly a dozen bull sharks were killed last weekend in a competition to see who can catch the biggest.

Removing the apex animals can have a huge negative impact on our oceans, and critics are speaking out about the shark fishing tournament, which was perfectly legal.

A total of 11 adult bull sharks have been hunted down and killed, all in the name of science.

“We’re starting to get to the point where there’s an imbalance where there’s a little bit too many sharks right now,” said Robert “Fly” Navarro.

Aside from being one of the organizers of tournament organizers, Navarro is also a sportfishing competition organizer who also happens to sit on NOAA’s Advisory Panel on Atlantic Highly Migratory Species.

He says he’s drawn attention to what he calls an increase in the local shark population over the past six years and insists this tournament was necessary.


“This is where I make my living, I make my living on the water,” Navarro said. “And one of my arguments about that is that we’re starting to get to a point where you’re losing 50 percent of what we put on sharks.”

Last year, NOAA awarded Florida Atlantic University a $195,000 grant to work with local fishermen to investigate a reported increase in devastation when sharks take anglers’ catch before it has landed.

dr Matt Ajemian from FAU and his team attended the tournament weigh-in and took samples from the dead sharks.

“We were approached because they wanted to donate carcasses from the tournament, they wanted it to have scientific value, so we volunteered,” Ajemian said. “There are certain types of tissue that you can’t get from living animals.”

Also at the tournament was a conservationist who was invited to the site, welcomed at the weigh-in and shared videos with Local 10 News.


“I’m a biologist and grew up down here in South Florida. I grew up sport fishing,” said the conservationist. “What I saw was exactly what I expected, which is people excited about killing animals for no reason. People spread lies about the number of sharks out there.”

The tournament rules adhered to Florida law, which states that anglers can only legally catch bull sharks; one per person or two per boat, whichever is less.

But was it really all about science?

Facebook posts on the group’s page revealed some of the angler’s true intentions. One post said, “Please kill as many as you can every day.” Another said, “Big or small, kill them all.”

Ryan Walton was one of many conservationists who kept an eye on the water throughout the tournament, making sure everyone was following the rules.

Fishermen on a boat were caught hitting a protected sandbar shark. Harvesting them is illegal in Florida, as is trolling a shark until it dies, even a bull shark. One of the anglers boasted about it, saying he trolled the bull shark for two hours before finally dying.


“They call it a tournament, but it’s really a cull,” Walton said. “It’s not the first time we’ve seen it. The crazy thing, though, is that it’s legal here in Florida any day of the week.”

“This is a spiteful, spiteful killing event by individuals who recognize that the bull shark is a legal species to catch in the state of Florida,” Walton continued. “So they took advantage of that and are doing everything they can to wipe them out.”

Shark diver Luis Roman also observed the water.

“There aren’t that many sharks,” he said. “People complain that sharks eat my fish and all these other things, but the reality is, you know, if you overfish there’s less fish to eat and (sharks) have to eat.”

Since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, Florida now has a record over 1,000,000 registered boats.

“There was a big boom in recreational fishing pressure,” Ajemian said. “In that combination, it creates some of these heightened interactions. It’s very difficult to say how many sharks are out there.”


So Navarro hopes this will now drive a new assessment of shark populations.

“My job is just to report to the federal government, ‘Hey, we’re starting to get an imbalance here,'” Navarro said.

But for shark activists like 14-year-old Cade, this should be a wake-up call for those who care about the ocean.

“Five, ten sharks, it doesn’t matter if it’s one shark or ten sharks, it’s still going to have an impact,” Cade said. “It’s an animal we need. They keep our ecosystems healthy, they eat all the sick and injured fish, and they keep our oceans in check. If you take out the sharks, the whole ecosystem collapses.”

A total of 54 boats took part in the tournament, but only 13 returned for the weigh-in. In the end, no shark meat was consumed, but the jaws were taken away as trophies.

Not the fins, since that’s illegal in Florida.

Navarro says about 150 other sharks were also caught, tagged and released, but those are his numbers.


Bull sharks are a near-endangered species. More shark fishing tournaments will be held in other states this summer. The next starts Friday in Alabama.

Those wishing to make their voices heard on this issue should contact FWC and NOAA Fisheries.

For FWC fisheries click here.

For NOAA fishing click here.

Copyright 2022 by WPLG – All rights reserved. Controversial shark fishing tournament draws criticism from activists

Sarah Y. Kim

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