Shark fishing in Delaware ... the rules clarified

June 19, 2014

Yesterday I was rewriting an article from last year in which I interviewed Fish and Wildlife Enforcement. In short, it is illegal in Delaware to catch a prohibited shark and remove it from the water. But many people still do it.

Coincidentally, a young man was recently bitten by a shark at Cape Henlopen state park at the swimming beach. This was not a shark attack as people think of a shark attack.  It was probably a small sandbar shark. We are glad the young man is fine and in good spirits. Do not let this discourage you from swimming in the tidal waters of Delaware. Sharks live in the ocean, so you have a better chance of being trampled by a cow than bitten by a shark. That being said, I am sure many people are going to want to go shark fishing from the surf or boats. The interview below will serve to clarify the rules for prohibited sharks in Delaware. Since the article was written a year ago, Delaware has a shark identification site at Take a look at it to help ID sharks you may catch. Prohibited species are the following: sandbar shark, sand tiger, Atlantic angel shark, basking shark, bigeye sand tiger, bigeye sixgill shark, bigeye thresher, bignose shark, Caribbean reef shark, Caribbean sharpnose shark, dusky shark, Galapagos shark, longfin mako, narrowtooth shark, night shark, sevengill shark, sixgill shark, smalltail shark, whale shark and white shark.

Sand tiger, sandbar and dusky are the most commonly caught in the near-shore tidal waters, so enjoy the article below. It was written last year, but it still stands:

I have been working on getting better information to the anglers about shark fishing in Delaware and the rules that need to be followed. We all have our own ways of interpreting the guidebook -- or anything for that matter. Yes, the information in there is vague, but it is hard to get all the information into the guidebook. The DNREC website lists more detailed rules for handling sharks. I took it upon myself to speak with some of the boys from enforcement because I wanted to get some clarifications for rules, especially concerning the surf. Many people send me shark pictures each week, and honestly ninety-nine percent of them are illegal catches!  I will explain why in this interview with DNREC Fish and Wildlife enforcement.

I met Sergeant Troy Trimmer and Sergeant Greg Rhoades for an interview regarding the rules for shark fishing and possession. There are a few in the guidebook, but, again, how the angler interprets these are up to them. The officers know this, and told me they cannot put all the rules in the guide book. The guidelines per Delaware State law are online at After reading them it’s obvious that they would not fit in the book, and would take even more space to explain. Several of the laws need to be clarified for the surf or shore angler. I would like to thank the officers for meeting me and taking a day away from their normal routine. They spend a lot of time on the go trying to enforce the state's laws. They have a tough job, and I learned just how tough as the interview progressed. The word proactive came up a few times, and let's face it, they deal all day with people who have knives and/or guns, so it was a good point.

The guidebook states that the shark is to be immediately released, what is the definition of immediately released? As soon as the shark is identified, it is to be immediately released if it is a prohibited species, if you do not know then immediately let it go.  

What is meant by maximum probability of survival? Sharks that are beached might have a 50/50 chance of surviving. This rule was put into use a few years ago when many sharks were washing up onto the beaches in Ocean City, MD. We found that the ones that were being caught in the surf in Delaware and beached were dying. The weight of the animal crushes its internal organs and the shark may swim away only to die later from injuries sustained due to the beaching process, and then wash up on public beaches. Once the rule was in effect and enforced, the sharks stopped washing up on the beaches.

Beaching shark is prohibited

I know that beaching a shark is prohibited, due to the fact that that would be removing the animal from the water. Where do you consider the water to end, and the beach to begin?  (Boaters are not to remove the shark from the water either.)  The whitewater in the surf is the closest to shore you can bring the shark; the definition of land comes into play here.

Where exactly is that? The wash, as I have always called it, is where the sand is exposed between waves. Is that considered the white water?  No, the whitewater is just that, the white water where the waves flatten out behind the first wave.  This way the shark is still in the water at all times. Remember that the animal must be identified first, because it is not to be removed from the water in case it is a prohibited species.  

Is it illegal to fish for or target prohibited species?  No

I have heard of some people being fined for pictures with prohibited species out of water, is this a fine-able offense? Yes. It is considered possession of a prohibited species in Delaware.

What are the fines involved? The fines can be from $76.50 to $700 including court costs. The actual fine itself is $25.

That seems rather cheap considering the fines for other offenses in Delaware. Yes. That is something we would like to see raised so it is more of a deterrent.    

I thanked the officers for taking the time to clarify some of these regulations. I tell people all the time that they are sending me pictures that are illegal. I hope this backs up those statements.  I did ask what information they would like me to put out there for the angler. Aside from this clarification of the rules that would help them enforcement the laws, their main concern is conservation of resources. The Delaware Bay is a breeding ground for many of these sharks, particularity the sand tiger. One of the things they wondered is if it’s really necessary to catch a shark at all since many are protected, and this is their nursery, and their numbers are on the decline. They see plenty of people out there shark fishing who do it the right way, like getting waist to chest deep in the water to release the animal.  Charter captains like Brian Wazlavek have a true respect for the animal, and take great care in the release.  I can attest to the fact that releasing the sharks while in the water is probably more thrilling than actually catching. Just get waist to chest deep one time with a ten foot sand tiger shark, and you will know what I am talking about. The term “pucker up” comes to mind.  Playing cowboy so you can brag to your friends, or taking a picture with the mouth pulled back and a beer can on its head is not respectful of the shark caught. In my opinion this is not true fishing.

The officers are not saying they want to see shark fishing shut down, but there is always that one person who messes it up for everyone else. For the most part people have respect for the creatures they are catching. There is just always that two to five percent that make it a problem for everyone.  If the rules are not followed at any time, anything can be shut down, and this is true for any regulated industry. Recreational fishing is a very large part of this community, and we don't need more legislation creating more rules. The majority of anglers are good people and follow the rules. A good way an angler can help with these sharks is to study the species and be able to identify them. If you don't know, let it go. That is good advice, and perhaps it would be a good idea to study up on what you are dealing with. I receive pictures each week of misidentified sharks. Bull sharks and sandbar sharks are confused the most.

Another subject that came up was that many people are not wearing their PFDs (Personal Flotation Device) when they are kayaking out bait. When I asked what they thought of using a boogie board to take out baits, the response was a roll of the eyes and some laughter. “Well, that is one way to go if you want to get bit!” Remember: When it comes to our toothy friends, if you do not know, let it go. If you want a picture of you with a shark while releasing it in the surf, have a friend take the picture, and do not pose for the picture.

Cobia in the surf, summer fishing abides

Well it has been an interesting week to say the least. Seems that shark week came early to Delaware this year. I have heard some crazy rumors about the shark “incident,” including one where some people in Pennsylvania heard it was faked. The other is that there is a bounty on the shark involved. I’m sure we don’t need a Quint, Hooper, and chief Brody reunion in Delaware! I have seen pictures of dogfish on a few media sites being called sand sharks and sand tigers and that is hilarious. And wrong!

Anyway, despite all the excitement, fishing has been decent this week. The surf has been the best in the early mornings for bluefish on cut mullet and mullet rigs. Kingfish are hitting bloodworms and Fishbites on top and bottom rigs. Colors don’t seem to matter for the floats. My floatless rigs do just fine. Croaker are all over the place in the surf, the Delaware Bay, inland bays, Broadkill River and Henlopen Pier. Fishbites, squid and bloodworms have been good croaker bait, and clam pieces also work. Just like any fishing trip you have to be at the right place at the right time. Fish are not going to jump into the boat or swim ashore for you. You have to put in the time and do some fishing. There are always dogfish, skate and rays in the surf for a good tug on a line. I have a few friends who love to catch these critters, and as nuts as that sounds they have a blast.

Flounder are here

Flounder are heavy in numbers and size all over Delaware. The surf has seen them on sand fleas or cut bait chunks. The Delaware Bay sites, old grounds, and out as far as B buoy. Massey’s Landing has produced a few nice flatties. The Indian River Inlet and Roosevelt Inlets have produced their fair share as well. Chartreuse Gulp or minnows have been the best baits. Henlopen Pier is still decent for flounder but the fish have definitely spread out to the normal areas. Spot are all over the place, and catching little ones makes for some great flounder bait. A few keeper striped bass have been caught in the surf on bunker chunks and north in the Delaware River and Bay. Lots of catfish are up there, and in our backwater tidal creeks and rivers. Short striped bass are still around as resident fish.

Shad are still showing up in the Indian River Inlet as well as bluefish and short striped bass. Crabbing is picking up nicely, and Rob Schumacher keeps catching flounder in his crab pots. We are hoping for a keeper any day now. Pre-stuffed flounder sounds really good.

Trout or weakfish action is still good and averaging five pounds. If we want to see more of these year after year it would help if people would release the large ones they are catching. I know one guy that caught one a week ago, he took a picture and released it. When I asked him why the release, he said he hadn’t caught one of these in over 15 years, and he didn’t have the heart to keep it. Now there’s a good example of responsible fishing.

Drum are still being banged up in the Delaware Bay and smaller ones from the surf. A few are starting to show up in the inland bays. Hoping to see some increased redfish numbers like we saw last year. The coolest catch from the surf this week was a cobia at Herring Point Beach in Cape Henlopen State Park by Dave Furio. He landed the fish on a chunk of bunker. Cobia are awesome to catch in the surf, as they really pull on a line.

The offshore action has been great with yellowfin, bluefin, and big eye tuna. Mahi mahi, tilefish and sea bass action has been hot for some of the charters. The first Delaware White Marlin was released by the “Prime Hook” the other day. Offshore action is heating up for the summer season, and the shark action is heating up out there as well. There have been some big makos, and threshers caught, and a lot of large sand tiger sharks near shore. It should be a nice weekend once this weather passes, and next week we are looking at very warm temperatures.  Soon we will be in the heat of the summer.