Experts warn caution when fishing for hammerhead

- Many fishermen will agree there's a special rush that comes with reeling in a shark, but biologists and conservationists are working to make sure one of the ocean's fiercest predators is being protected. 

Four dead hammerhead sharks have washed ashore this month, from Venice to Sanibel Island. Three were female sharks and the other was a male. Fishing line was found wrapped around one and a fisherman called after he released the hammerhead and watched it die.

Meanwhile, at the Venice fishing pier, you're likely to find 11-year-old Tori Merlino and her dad, Rob working to reel in their next big catch.

"It is kind of hard, but it's fun to do," Tori said.

They fish for everything, but shark fishing is one of their favorites.

"It is just the size of the animal that is the appeal, because it puts up such a good fight. The fact that it's an apex predator," Rob Merlino explained.

When they reel in a shark, they only keep it for a few moments before they let it go back to sea.

"We always catch and release, and do it in a responsible way," said Rob.

Doctor Bob Hueter with Mote Marine Laboratory would be happy to hear that. He is working to get the word out to the fishing community to be careful with hammerhead sharks.

"These sharks are very, very fragile, unfortunately, especially this time of year when the water is so hot," Dr. Hueter explained.

He said researchers see a sharp decline in the number of hammerhead sharks, prompting concern for troubles down the road.

"They just can't get enough oxygen and go into physiological stress in a matter of minutes and die," Dr. Hueter explained of what can happen when a hammerhead finds itself at the end of someone's line.

Dr. Hueter recommends staying away from stainless steel hooks and cutting the line if a hammerhead is caught. Most of all, he said to not reel the shark into shore. Get it back in the water as quickly as possible.

"Reduce that fight time, use heavy tackle, don't use light tackle that takes a long time to get the animal under control," he said.

He hopes everyone will listen. Hammerheads are protected and he doesn't want to see their status change for the worse.

"We are at a point now where each of those can make a difference," he said.

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