Florida’s New Shark Fishing Regs Includes Mandatory Online Course

Shark anglers asked to consider leaving the area when sunbathers arrive.

Brad Gill | June 26, 2019

My first Florida shark experience was during July 2015.

My wife and daughters and some family friends vacationed in a quiet little fishing village in the clear waters of the Gulf of Mexico. We trailered a 19-foot Southern Skimmer flat-bottom boat equipped with a Yamaha 2-stroke with high hopes of catching something. The first few days were spent tied to the dock replacing pumps, gas lines, gaskets and even carburetors—three of them to be exact. But then it was on!

Our first day out, we found a little sandy spot 300 yards offshore in about 17 feet of water. We tossed out the anchor and started chumming. It didn’t take long for one of the rods to bend way over and the Penn Conflict reel to screen off some drag. I picked up the rod from the rodholder and handed it to a 6-year-old boy looking for his first big fish. A few minutes later, we had a 39-inch scalloped hammerhead in the floor of the boat. The young man’s dad shook my hand in gratitude. I’ll never forget that day.

A quick couple of pictures with the boy, me holding the fish and the beautiful ocean behind us and back in the water the non-keeper, and very much unharmed, shark went.

Word was out that we had found these very cool looking fish. They were hammerhead “pups,” but we didn’t care. They were fun! My daughter and three boys a few docks down joined us on later trips. I have pictures of them with their first hammerheads, too. I cherish those pictures, and today I am more thankful than ever to have them backed up on the Cloud to enjoy as I get older.

This big lemon shark was caught with a 20/0 stainless steel circle hook in 2017. Under new FWC guidelines, all hooks for shark fishing must be non-offset, non-stainless-steel circle hooks. In addition, lemon sharks are considered prohibited sharks. Starting July 1, prohibited shark species must remain in the water with the gills submerged when fishing from shore or from a vessel. This photo will no longer be allowed to be taken on any shark where harvest is not intended.

It will now be illegal to take such photos of non-keeper sharks, at least in Florida.

Beginning July 1, 2019, things are not going to be that simple for anyone wishing to make some family shark fishing memories like we did. Although on the surface it seems the new rules will really only affect those who choose to shark fish from the beach, there are some brand-new regulations that those shark fishing from a boat will need to know about, as well. And some of them have made my tackle obsolete!

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) just announced that those wanting to fish for sharks from the shore must take a mandatory online-only course called the “Shark-Smart Fishing Educational Course.” Once you take the 30-minute course, you must then pass a test. And brace yourself… you must make a 100% on the 10-question quiz before you then receive a special “Shore-based Shark-Smart Fishing Certificate” and your very own “Unique Identification Code” number. And then (last hoop, I think), you can go get your free “Shore-based Sharking Fishing Permit” to go along with your fishing license.

I took the online shark course because I surf fish in Florida a few days during my annual week-long vacation. I don’t always target sharks, but I do catch them and enjoy it. Most years I will keep a few small bonnetheads and Atlantic sharpnose sharks for the table. They are excellent marinaded and grilled.

So why did Florida decide it was time to tighten up the government reigns on those who pursue these toothy fish? If this were strictly a conservation issue, I’m all for it. I really am fond of sharks, fishing for sharks and do want them to be plentiful in the future. However, I’m pretty sure that’s not totally what we’re dealing with here.

After taking the course, my understanding from the young lady doing the talking is that there haven been too many user conflicts over the years between the sun worshippers and those who like to stand on the shore and use the ocean for the purpose of sport or putting fish in the freezer.

There’s one sentence in the mandatory online course (heard below) that pokes me pretty good. The course instructor says, “If you are fishing in a popular swimming or sunbathing area, consider moving to another area when swimmers arrive.”

Really? You’re asking me to consider moving spots, even though I was there first? FWC, that’s a pretty big statement on how you feel about your shore-based anglers when compared to those who just want to lube up with the sun screen and lay around in the sand. Guess it’s out of the question to ask sunbathers to pick a spot where nobody was fishing first? Could offend someone I guess…

So do you need to take the Shark-Smart Fishing Educational Course? I guess that’s up to you, but I know tickets are written at the discretion of the game warden. Pretty sure the excuse, “I was fishing for redfish,” won’t fly very far.

According to FWC, the permit is required for all shore-based shark anglers age 16 and older, including those 65 and older who are normally exempt from needing a fishing license. Those under 16 are required to take the educational course unless they are fishing with an adult who already holds the permit.

This boy was specifically looking for a shark bite off the Florida coast. Assuming the boy was just starting to read, the adult chaperone with him would need to have the Shore-based Shark Fishing Permit before he could shark fish.

Mamas, if your child is taking a reading break for the summer, make sure you have the course nailed down before you let your kid shark fish in the Florida surf.

The course requirements also apply if you plan to fish from shore for any species of fish and will be:

• Fishing with a metal leader more than 4 feet long.
• Using a fighting belt/harness.
• Deploying bait by any means other than casting (kayaking for example) while using a hook that is 1.5 inches or larger at its widest inside distance.

That’s not all. There is some information on there stating that you can’t chum from the beach, along with some strong recommendations to fish barbless and use a minimum of 80-lb. test line when fishing for sharks in the surf. Mamas, if you need to know a good knot for tying 80-lb. mono, I can recommend the uni-knot. Five wraps works, six gets a little more difficult. Just Google it.

It’s all there for you at

Shark Fishing From A Boat

You say you shark fish from a boat in Florida? Me, too! Oh wait, we aren’t exempt from the new set of government rules, even though we aren’t required to take the course… Yeah, let that sink in a minute.

Below are three more FWC fishing regulations that will go into affect July 1, 2019, including:

• Requiring the use of non-offset, non-stainless-steel circle hooks to target or harvest sharks when using live or dead natural bait (when fishing from shore and from a vessel).
• Requiring the possession/use of a device capable of quickly cutting the leader or hook when targeting sharks (when fishing from shore or a vessel).
• Requiring that prohibited shark species remain in the water (when fishing from shore or from a vessel).

I guess the $100 worth stainless hooks I have are now worthless in The Sunshine State. Is there a grandfather clause somewhere?

Remember that family fishing trip I enjoyed in 2015? Guess no more “grab-and-grin” photos when we catch prohibited sharks species, like those really neat hammerheads. Glad we were able to capture a few photographs while we could. Photos won’t be near as impressive now with my kid’s head hanging over the side of the boat with the fish submerged in the water.

Sure hope this doesn’t come to my home state of Georgia… we like to photograph sharks in the Atlantic Ocean, too. Oh well, maybe I can use my stainless hooks up there for a little while longer.

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