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Date of Issue: August 02, 2007

Sandscript

Eco-snippets to hopefully cause a grin or two

It’s time to clean off the desk. Here’s a bunch of little matters that may be of interest.

 

Shark changes

Fishing for sandbar and dusky sharks may soon be severely curtailed, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

“NOAA Fisheries Service is proposing that commercial and recreational fishing for sandbar sharks be significantly reduced and limited to only those commercial vessels that take part in a shark research program,” according to the federal agency, which added that “this proposal is open to public comment.”

The agency said that “because sandbar sharks as well as dusky sharks have been severely depleted, we must take strong measures to stop overfishing and allow these species to rebuild.”

NOAA said that “sandbar and dusky sharks, like other shark species, mature late, grow slowly and produce relatively few young. This makes them particularly vulnerable to overexploitation. NOAA banned the fishing of dusky sharks in 2000, after stock assessments showed severe depletion.” There are about 529 commercial fishing permits for shark fishing in the Atlantic Ocean, Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean.

“Sandbar sharks, because of their large fins, are the most valuable species among the large coastal sharks,” according to NOAA. “The fins are considered a delicacy and are a main ingredient in ethnic food dishes such as shark fin soup.”

That last mention means that “finning” of sandbar sharks is a huge industry for sale to the Asia, also a huge business for fishers.

We’re familiar with bonnethead, hammerhead, nurse and, of course, bull sharks in local waters. Sandbar? Dusky?

“They’re both in the Gulf of Mexico in the winter,” said Mote Marine Laboratory’s Dr. Carl Luhr, one of the researchers for the lab’s shark-study program.

“Dusky sharks? Gee, I haven’t seen one it at least 10 years,” he said, adding, although, that “the Gulf is part of their natural distribution range.”

There is a whole list of amendments to the rules that would call for reducing quotas of the specific species by as much as 80 percent, as well as dropping the number of vessels that could go after the critters and add to the research on where, what and how long they live, plus closing some areas to shark fishing.

Public comments are being sought on the matter at meetings throughout the country. The nearest hearing to Anna Maria Island will be at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Aug. 22, at the city of Madeira Beach, 300 Municipal Drive, Madeira Beach.

It would appear that it is again one of those “too little, too late” approaches, but anything that aids a fishery is likely a good thing.

 

Great Scallop Hunt coming up

Speaking of August and critters brings to mind the upcoming Great Scallop Hunt Aug. 18 in Tampa Bay.

Tampa Bay Watch and the Tampa Bay Estuary Program hold the event annually, asking volunteers to don their masks and snorkels and hunt for the wily blue-eyed devils, which were once a feature of our local waters and dinner menus, but are now very scarce.

Last year drew found less than 20 of the scallops in the bay, and that was with 50 teams looking for the little mollusks.

The low count by the effort last year made the discovery a few weeks ago by a group of youngsters from the Boys and Girls Clubs of Manatee at Emerson Point so impressive. The kids picked up more than 60 scallops in an hour or so.

Scallops are like the canaries that coal miners used to take down shafts. If the little yellow birds were OK, the miners figured the air would be OK, too. Birds die, miners run away.

The same is true for scallops in our waters. Got scallops? Got good water. No scallops? Water not so good.

Call 727-867-8166 to volunteer for the “hunt.”

Oh, and remember that you can’t keep any scallops you find for dinner. The range of scallop harvest is from Pasco County northward along the Nature Coast to just west of Pensacola. No harvest is allowed locally.

 

Another sturgeon attack

There was another sturgeon-human interaction recently, this one causing two young women to be smacked off their personal watercrafts in the Suwannee River in the Florida Panhandle by what was estimated to have been a 6-foot-long fish that jumped in front of their little scooter-like boats. The women only received cuts and bruises, but were taken to a local hospital for checkups.

Sturgeon, a prehistoric species, migrate from the deep Gulf waters to rivers in the summer. They like to jump out of the water, sometimes in front of human boaters zipping down the same rivers. Unfortunately for the humans, the sturgeon are big - up to 8 feet in length and up to 200 pounds in size - and, with their bony scales, can cause some serious injuries.

So far this year, there have seven people injured by sturgeon jumps. Last year saw three injuries.

According to an article in the Sarasota Herald-Tribune from a New York Times news source, “Officials have estimated that 7,000 sturgeon make the annual migration to the 265-mile-long Suwannee River. If the fish were evenly distributed, that would be about 26.3 sturgeon per mile of river.”

We’re not talking about a mullet or a ray jumping into your boat here - think the size of a large man totally clearing the water, flying into your face, armed with those tough, bony scales.

Mote Marine Laboratory, by the way, is involved in an active program to rebuild its sturgeon hatchery program that was hit hard by a fire last year.

 

… and then there’s the carp

And from Scripps Howard News Services’ Dale McFeatters comes this comment: an Asian species of carp is apparently causing problems while jumping from the water in the Mississippi, Illinois and Missouri rivers in the Midwest.

The fish apparently escaped from an Arkansas fish farm in the 1970s. They grow to 50 pounds, and don’t have a problem jumping out of the water into boats, although no one has been seriously hurt.

Oh, and McFeatters also noted that somebody fishing the Catawba River in North Carolina caught this little fish he hadn’t seen before. Come to find out, it was a piranha, those South American fish that make great scary movie fare for devouring people.

As has been mentioned before here, there’s always something out to get you out there.

 

Everybody loves Harry

Press reports last week on the sales of the latest Harry Potter book, “Harry Potter and the Deadly Hallows,” were, quite frankly, scary.

U.S. sales were reported at 8.3 million in the 24 hours after its drop date of July 21. The print run in this country was 12 million. Worldwide sales for the first 24 hours of the book’s release were pegged at about 15 million.

To bring those numbers into perspective, a local bookseller told me that John Grisham, arguably the best-selling author out there today, had his book “Innocent Man” come out with a 1.5 million first-edition run.

Now, for you bibliophiles, remember that the “sales” figures actually translate into “shipped” to booksellers. Returns are definitely possible, and if you can hold off a few weeks or months to read the seventh and last installment of J.K. Rowling’s book on the young wizard, you can save yourself quite a few bucks.

Also in the Harry news was the release last week that several hundred of the books were missing lots of pages. As something of a book collector, I would strongly suggest that anybody with any missing pages keep the book, go buy another to pick up the missing part, and wait a while before selling it.

And yes, I’ve got one and, except - Spoiler Alert! - for the fact that everybody died in the end, I enjoyed it.

Oops. I didn’t say that. Sorry.

 

Sandscript factoid

We’ve all read and heard or seen the outcome of natural disasters.

Unfortunately, the post-disaster relief effort is often as much of a disaster as the natural one. We all remember the Hurricane Katrina problems in New Orleans at the Superdome and all the rest.

A buddy of mine volunteered to help out after that one. He’s a big-rig truck driver, and tells a horrifying story of driving with a freezer load of ice from point to point throughout the entire Southeast for weeks without unloading a bag.

He also came down with some weird disease that caused him to lose 60 pounds and took a year to cure.

The post-disaster disasters aren’t just limited to the coastal states around the Gulf of Mexico.

Last week, the federal government decided to dump thousands of pounds of ice to melt and go away. The feds had been keeping it for two years post-Katrina - heck, my buddy might have carried some of it - until it ended up in storage in Gloucester, Mass.

Cost of storage? Estimated at $12.5 million, not counting the hauling fees.

The feds said they dumped the ice because they weren’t sure of its expiration date.

Hello? Can you say “glacier?”

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