The anglers who caught the estimated 800-pound shortfin mako shark off the L.A. coast on Monday hired a professional shark guide, and have since cut and preserved the animal for food.
Public furor erupted when the catch was , questioning the legality and rationale of the fishermen's actions and condemning the predator's removal from the ecosystem.
A 30-year shark-fishing veteran led the excursion, commissioned by a private unidentified boat, and set out with the intention of catching and keeping a mako shark.
The boat captain, who because of the backlash wishes to remain anonymous to protect his employer, a commercial shark-fishing charter company, said that this was the first shark he has killed in about two years, and only the fourth in his 20 years as a professional shark fisherman in Southern California.
“We gutted the fish, we cut off the fins and tossed them, and it’s been already been eaten by a lot of us. The rest was frozen,” he said.
In California, anyone with a fishing license can legally catch two sharks per day, and there is neither a legal minimum or maximum weight for catching a mako. Non-commercial fishermen are not allowed to sell the meat, and have to either donate it or consume it. It is also unlawful for anyone to possess, sell or trade a shark fin, which unlike shark meat that is worth only pennies a pound, can fetch upwards of $600 a pound.
The boat captain said the fins were discarded.
On an 800-pound shark, about 30 percent of its weight is salvageable for consumption, according to Leon Mihon, a a retired squid fisherman from San Pedro, who would occasionally catch sharks to sell.
“You’re not fishing sharks for the money,” he said, estimating that the 800-pound shark would fetch about $100 and “not even enough to cover gas.”
Mihon said a lot of shark meat caught in California in the 1960s and 70s was exported to England for fish and chips, and since then, the sport-fishing industry has reduced its impact on the marine ecosystem.
The majority of sport-fishing operations in California often catch and release sharks – an estimated 27 of the 436 short-fin mako sharks caught in 2010 were kept, according to the Pacific Fishery Management Council, a forum comprised of federal and state officials that develops conservation and management resources for the West Coast.
“The mako population is relatively stable, and there is no evidence that it’s in decline,” said Monica Allen, spokeswoman for the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
NOAA conducts surveys every year on shark populations, and although numbers tend to vary widely from year to year due to a myriad of factors, such as ocean conditions, scientists have caught and released 60 sharks so far in 2012, compared to 13 in 2011.