ROCKAWAY BEACH, New York (PIX11) — IIt’s driving anglers into a frenzy almost as intense as the one attracting the sharks that weigh up to 500 pounds.
The variety of sharks that have been spotted and caught off Rockaway Beach this week include great whites, which have been as close as a mile-and-a-half off shore.
“It was the first line we put in,” fisherman Steve Fernandez said Tuesday afternoon about one of his remarkable catches from the day before.
We “fought it for two hours,” he said about the thresher shark he caught about 3 miles off Rockaway.
He mugged for a photo with the huge fish after he’d brought it ashore, and it was easily two-and-a-half times Fernandez’s 6-foot height. The shark’s weight was estimated at 300 pounds.
On his way back to port after nabbing the thresher shark, Fernandez encountered a great white, which he caught. It was a juvenile, a young and still-growing version of the type of shark a group of friends boating a few miles off Cape May, N.J., came face to face with over the weekend.
They recorded video of the edgy encounter:
It’s all very visual proof that a mighty fish, which had been in decline in U.S. waters for decades, has made a comeback.
“People have been vigilant in their efforts to save the great white shark,” boat captain Eric Jahrne told PIX11 News, “and [the great whites] are producing and reproducing and the population has been getting higher.”
Many marine biologists agree with Jahrne, and cite conservation efforts as the reason that the species at the top of the food chain has increased in number over the past dozen years or so.
PIX11 encountered Jahrne at the Tamaqua Marina after he’d caught a 500-pound thresher shark about 5 miles off Rockaway.
Jahrne said that the increase of sea life — including a greater presence of bunkers, bait fish whose massive schools have brought its predators out in larger numbers — is a blessing that could quickly become a curse.
“Anybody with a boat, even a 14- or a 16-footer,” the sea captain said, could potentially catch the massive fish he frequently reels in to his large charter fishing vessel.
“Too many fish, I believe,” he said, “are getting killed.”
To help prevent that, federal rules are now in place making it illegal to catch great whites. For instance, Steve Fernandez, the fisherman who caught the juvenile great white in addition to a thresher on Monday, released the great white.
He’d encountered it about a mile-and-a-half off Rockaway Beach.
Virtually every swimmer ventures about 50 feet or so from most shorelines. So beachgoers are safe from the large, predatory fish.
However, Fernandez said swimmers should still be careful.
“I tell everybody you’re swimming in their backyard, and there’s no magic fence that keeps these sharks on the beach,” he said.