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Earth Island Institute
Fall 1995
vol 10, no. 4

Direct Action Halts Shark-Shoot

by Nathan LaBudde

Fifty years ago, when the Elkhorn Slough oyster fishery off Moss Landing, California, was facing collapse due to the commercial over harvesting of oysters, local fishers created a contest to rid the waters of oyster-eating sharks and rays. Once the sharks and rays were eradicated, they reasoned, the vanishing shellfish populations would rebound and even higher levels of oyster-harvesting would result.

The first shark and ray hunt took place in the spring of 1946 and the public responded enthusiastically to the invitation to help "liberate" the fishery. Hundreds of harmless leopard sharks and bat rays were killed by citizens armed with pitchforks, shotguns and dynamite. Although the shark and ray populations were greatly reduced in the aftermath of the hunts, the oyster fishery nonetheless collapsed shortly afterward.

Local anglers, however, were left with an indelible taste for killing. Each spring they returned to the hunt, taking advantage of the sharks' and rays' seasonal preoccupation with mating and birthing. Over the decades, two distinct sporting groups emerged. One group of local anglers holds an annual "rod-and-reel" event in which captured sharks are tagged and released. The other group, the "Archers," are primarily interested in killing sharks with hunting arrows and crossbows. The annual Archer event has attracted more than 100 participants.

In 1991, the Pelagic Shark Research Foundation, led by a Sean Van Sommeran, suggested that the hunt be reconsidered in light of marine biologists' new understanding of the vital roll that sharks play in the ocean ecosystem. The Archers, however, did not agree to a review.

In 1993, PSRF disrupted the shark "derby," an action that forced the Archers to negotiate. PSRF won a number of concessions, including agreements that: no more than one shark could be taken per archer (the state's legal limit is three), no more than 30 archers could participate, all sharks killed were to be eaten and all future Archer's derbies were to be monitored by PSRF. In addition, the event's timing was pushed back, from early July to early August, to avoid the main portion of the sharks' breeding cycle.

In 1994, however, the agreement was violated when some Archers made it a point to torture and brutalize their catches in front of PSRF observers.

This year, Van Sommeran organized a coalition of groups in support of permanently halting the event. A total of 50 representatives from Earth Island Institute, Surfers Environmental Alliance, Earth First!, Sea Defense Alliance (SDA), Sea Shepherd, Greenpeace and others, staged a protest at the Archers' 1995 derby.

The event was delayed for hours with a "lockdown" of the boat launching area after three protesters (Lynnelle Wing and Jennifer Kortright of Earth First! and Jonathon Poaul of SDA) chained themselves to boats and boat trailers using a Kryptonite lock. The rest of the action consisted of thwarting would-be hunters and archers throughout the day with a small armada of kayaks, skiffs and inflatables. Heckling by protesters was answered by archers who spat coffee, swore and made threats of bodily harm. By day's end, only four sharks had been killed. Earth First!'s Kortright was arrested and charged with disturbing the peace, but the charge was later dropped.

In the aftermath of the 1995 derby, the Moss Landing Harbor District has announced that it will not issue an event permit for 1996 and the derby's longtime sponsors -- Centro Valley Archers and the California Bowman Hunter's Association -- have permanently withdrawn their support. While individual archers will continue to spear sharks in the Elkhorn slough, the end of the destructive event will help restore shark populations and the ecological balance of the shark fishery.

(Earth Island Institute)

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