Dave Williamson of Lewes, Delaware, said he was fishing at Cape Henlopen State Park over the weekend when something caught his line. Williamson soon realized it was a sand tiger shark.
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Beachgoers watched in awe as Williamson wrangled the shark with his bare hands before letting it go. Williamson insisted that the surreal incident wasn’t anything new to him however.
“It’s not a first for me by any means,” he said. “I’ve been catching sharks on the beach for about five years now.”
After a video of the “wrestling match” went viral, many people on social media criticized Williamson for how he handled the situation. Williamson claimed he followed proper protocol and wasn’t issued a ticket by the The Delaware Department of Natural Resources and Environmental Control (DNREC).
“If you watch the video I did those things and I try to do it by the book every single time because there are so many eyeballs and camera lenses on you at all times,” he said.
A spokesperson for the DNREC released a statement on the incident.
“While shore-based shark fishing is allowed in Delaware, harassment of wildlife is not,” the spokesperson wrote. “Prohibited shark species must be immediately released and anglers should minimize handling them to increase their chances of survival.”
Rachel Foster, who recorded the viral moment, said she’s happy to have the memory.
“Once in a lifetime to see a shark that close to shore and that close to us,” Foster said.
Dr. Aaron Carlisle, a Marine Science and Policy professor at the University of Delaware, said the incident wasn’t that out of the ordinary however.
“They’re there and they’re pretty abundant and people catch them all of the time,” he said. “Surf fishing and that’s one of the big things that people seem to like to do here when they’re fishing off the beaches. Catch sand tigers in sandbars.”
Dr. Carlisle said Williamson didn’t do anything wrong and that cutting the hook off and letting the shark go is far less stressful for the animal than over handling it, which could irritate the shark. WIlliamson meanwhile said the incident turned out the best way possible.
“Nobody was harmed, everybody walked away healthy as did the animal so you know that’s always great as well,” he said.
Sand tiger sharks are “prohibited species” to fish, according to the DNREC, meaning if one catches your line it must be released as quickly and as safely as possible.