HUNTINGTON BEACH, Calif. - News that a sport-fisherman reeled in — and kept — a potentially record-setting mako shark off the Southern California coast earlier this week is making waves with conservationists, who berated the catch because shark populations are vulnerable to overfishing worldwide.
The female shark caught Monday off Huntington Beach weighed in at just over 1,323 pounds. It was 11 feet long and measured 8 feet around its sizeable midsection, said Kent Williams, a California-certified fish weight master and owner of New Fishall Bait, where the shark was taken for frozen storage.
Jason Johnston, of Mesquite, Texas, caught the massive fish after a 2 1/2-hour battle, the Orange County Register reported.
If the catch is confirmed and meets conditions, it would exceed the 1,221-pound record mako catch made in July 2001 off the coast of Chatham, Mass., said Jack Vitek, world records co-ordinator for the Florida-based International Game Fish Association. It takes about two months for the association to verify domestic catches, he told the Los Angeles Times.
For now, Williams is keeping the shark in a refrigerated storage unit, stuffed into a 3-by-5-foot metal bin on wheels from which its tail and head spill out. Layered rows of razor-sharp teeth line the shark's mouth, which was frozen halfway shut Wednesday. A rope was still looped around its dorsal fin.
Under state law, anglers can take two such sharks per outing, although such catches are exceedingly rare, Williams said.
"Ninety-nine out of 100 people who are out fishing for sharks catch this and will not be able to land it. There's very few of these caught each year, but every time one's caught, people make a big deal about it," he told the AP.
On Wednesday, angry callers from as far away as Australia were phoning Williams' wholesale fish bait business to complain that he was storing the shark there.
The shark should have been released, argued David McGuire, director of the California-based protection advocacy group Shark Stewards.
"People should be viewing these sharks as wonderful animals that are important to the ocean and admiring how beautiful they are" rather than "spilling their blood and guts," McGuire told the Times.
But any sport fisherman who has a potential world record is not going to release the fish, Williams said. "I don't care what they say. If they have a potential world record, they're going to take that fish — if they can."
Only 23 of the 6,850 world records on file with the game association involve fish topping 1,300 pounds, Vitek said. The largest catch was a 2,664-pound great white shark that was taken in 1959 off the Australian coast.
"Seeing a fish over 1,000 pounds — whether it's a shark, a tuna or a billfish — it's extremely rare," Vitek said.
Plans call for the shark to be donated for research.
Johnston came to California to film a game-hunting television program called "Jim Shockey's The Professionals" for the Outdoor Channel.
Southern California is considered to be a nursery ground for mako sharks. But the ones that are caught are usually between 2 1/2 and 6 feet long, said Nick Wegner, a fisheries research biologist at Scripps Institution of Oceanography in San Diego.
"Encountering one this big is rare," he said.
The catch was made aboard the chartered fishing vessel Breakaway, out of Huntington Beach. Skipper Matt Potter told the Times that the boat only kept one mako for a total of 18 passengers who were out three days. The rest were released, he said.
Still, McGuire said sharks should be left alone.
"These kind of reality shows are not reality," he said. "The reality is we're overfishing sharks and this macho big-game attitude should be a relic of the past."