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Killing Some Sharks Off Florida To Become A Crime

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(Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

(Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images)

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Miami Dolphins

MIAMI (CBSMiami) – Florida fisherman may soon be banned from killing tiger sharks and three kinds of hammerheads thanks to the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission.

FWC officials plan to expand the types of sharks that are protected from harvest in Florida waters, which extend three miles off the Atlantic coast and nine miles off the Gulf coast. There are already 23 species of sharks on the list and FWC officials are about to outlaw the killing of tiger sharks as well as scalloped, smooth and great hammerheads as well.

Catch-and-release fishing would still be allowed.

Shark experts, marine scientists and environmentalists all support the proposal, noting populations of all four species have declined by more than half in recent decades. They also hope Florida’s action, the first in the nation, will clear the way for extending protections in both federal and international waters.

“It’s a big step but we’re going to need the federal government to step up and do their part as well,” said Neil Hammerschlag, a professor and shark expert at the University of Miami.

Because sharks reach breeding maturity late in life and produce relatively few offspring, they’re particularly vulnerable to the impacts of overfishing, Hammerschlag told CBS4 News partner The Miami Herald. Scientists estimate the gestation period of tiger sharks, for instance, at from nine to 15 months.

Though some people see sharks as nothing more than dangerous monsters, scientists say they serve important roles at the top of the ocean food chain, keeping the ecosystem in balance. Reducing their numbers can create unexpected and unwanted ripple effects.

The rule, if approved, would make it a second-degree misdemeanor to catch and kill one of the sharks in state waters. The state is also developing an education campaign to promote safe catch-and-release using circle hooks and other gear that does less damage. The FWC is also considering a tag system that would allow anglers to pay to kill a limited number of sharks, such as potential record catches.

(©2011 CBS Local Media, a division of CBS Radio Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. CBS4 news partner The Miami Herald contributed material for this report.)

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