MOBILE, Ala. (WBRC) - The return of the shark category to the 89th annual Alabama Deep Sea Fishing Rodeo (ADSFR) was a rousing success with 15 sharks weighed in during the three-day event.
As excited spectators and anglers waited for the sharks come to the weigh station, a bevy of marine scientists and students waited to advance the science on these predatory species. Assistant rodeo judge Dr. Marcus Drymon of Mississippi State University and Mississippi-Alabama Sea Grant Consortium is renowned for his knowledge of the shark species in the northern Gulf of Mexico. He said sharks weighed in at the rodeo certainly provided a unique opportunity to gather a variety of samples from each species.
“I’ve been researching sharks in the north-central area of the Gulf along with Dr. (Sean) Powers for almost 20 years,” Drymon said. “A lot of the research we do is tracking their trends, their relative abundance and distribution as well as doing studies on their age and growth, reproduction, movements and migrations, post-release mortality and things of that sort.
“Here at the Alabama Deep Sea Fishing Rodeo, we’re taking the opportunity to take vertebrae from these very large individuals.”
Drymon said the scientists were able to gather samples from the reproductive organs, fins, livers, and muscle tissue. Samples of bile, gall bladders and kidneys also were taken to assess overall health.
Most of the sharks weighed at the ADSFR were males, which are usually similar in length to but weigh less than the females, Drymon said. The rodeo placed stringent length requirements on the shark category with an 80-inch minimum for tiger, bull and hammerhead sharks and a 60-inch minimum on blacktips.
Drymon said the impact of the rodeo harvest will have a minimal effect on the shark populations, “For the species being caught, their populations in the north-central Gulf of Mexico are in good shape,” he said. “We know this because we’ve seen their population trajectories slowly increase after decades of overharvesting. Due to strong management measures from NOAA Fisheries and the State of Alabama, we see these shark populations are starting to recover and can stand a limited, sustainable harvest.”
Sharks weren’t the only species being studied. Marine scientists gathered samples from a variety of fish during the rodeo, which experienced near-perfect fishing conditions with calm seas and diminishing squalls.
“We’re collecting samples from all the species at the rodeo,” Powers said. “We look at mercury levels, which is something routine we do. We don’t expect any problems. We’re looking at flounder. We’ve seen a lot more flounder in the last two years, at least in my memory. We’ve seen a lot of big gray snapper.”
“The really big red snapper specimens from the rodeo are excellent because one of the things we’re trying to look at is to see if the big females slow down their production of the eggs,” Powers said. “The idea is the bigger the female, the better, but that really hasn’t been tested that much. We think it is, but there is some evidence that as the fish get really old, they don’t produce as many eggs.”
Powers said a 20-inch red snapper is about 5 to 6 years old, and the oldest red snapper recorded was 56 years old and came from Alabama waters.
The largest red snapper at this year’s rodeo was a 27.2-pounder weighed in by Hyler Krebs.
“One of the things we want to find out is how important that Delta area is. It is unique in chemical composition. With this, we can tell the proportion of the fish that use the Delta. I think the Delta may explain how good the recruitment is for flounder. Is the Delta salty enough? That Delta has so much habitat and so much vegetation, just a change of a few parts per thousand in salinity can make that area accessible or inaccessible to these fish.”
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