Michael Van Vleet/Flickr

Ever since a group of sadistic bro-foons dragged a shark behind their speedboat earlier this year (and videoed themselves laughing through it all), I’ve been trying to figure out what’s against the law when it comes to shark fishing off the coast of Florida and elsewhere. The same group of men also posted online footage of themselves torturing two hammerhead sharks, shooting one in the side and pouring beer over the gills of another to watch it slowly suffocate (among additional grisly acts of cruelty on other marine life).

Whether these shark draggers will face any charges remains unclear a month after the images went viral. Shark-fishing laws are complicated and their jurisdictions can be murky, but whether an act is legal basically depends on what type of shark is caught, where, with what, and if and when it is released.

The informed participation of fishermen is crucial to protecting shark populations. While the animal abusers in the video don’t seem concerned about the legality of their actions (or common decency), navigating federal, state, and local shark-fishing laws can be tricky business even for well-meaning anglers.

As an example, take the scalloped hammerhead, the first shark to acquire federal protections when it was placed on the Endangered Species List in 2014.

Shooting a Hammerhead

Killing a scalloped hammerhead would land you in trouble, yes? Not necessarily. Due to the wording of the species’ Endangered Species Act (ESA) listing, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration doesn’t consider this shark endangered or threatened on the Eastern Seaboard or in the Gulf of Mexico (just pretty much everywhere else in the world). So fishing for hammerheads in federal waters on the Atlantic coast is perfectly legal, so long as anglers have the proper permit. 

And shooting

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