Fishers from across the state are eagerly awaiting the start of the first shark fishing license in California, the first one that will allow them to fish with dolphins.
The license is a landmark in a rapidly evolving industry that has been struggling to find the right balance between commercial and recreational fishing.
The California Department of Fish and Wildlife, the state’s top animal welfare regulator, is expected to award the license later this month.
Fishers have long been frustrated with the lack of regulations for the species and its fishing, and the lack that exists for dolphins.
“It’s been decades since we’ve had a licensed species, and there are so many things we still don’t know,” said Jason Matson, president of the California Fishermen’s Association.
“But this is a huge step forward in a sea change.”
Matson and the association, which includes thousands of fishers from the Pacific Northwest to the East Coast, are hoping to get their first license on Monday, as part of a larger push by the state to improve the safety and management of marine life.
It’s an industry that is still struggling to be regulated in a way that works for the public, Matson said.
Fishermen in the Pacific have long known that sharks and dolphins are often entangled in fishing gear and have little protection.
But the state has been slow to regulate the industry because of the lack, for example, of a single marine mammal that the state regulates.
Matson thinks the new licensing will help bring more attention to the situation.
“This is the first of its kind in the U.S. and hopefully, it will spur more attention,” Matson told ABC News.
The state has not released a list of the species that it plans to award licenses to.
Masks and harnesses have long become a common sight on fishing boats in California.
But Fishers are not the only ones who use them, and not all boats are equipped with a safety harness.
Fishery officials are hoping that the license will be the first step in that direction.
“If they’re going to be able to take on this big task and do it with safety, then we’ve got to be prepared for that,” said Steve Sauer, president and CEO of the South Coast Fishermen Association.
In addition to the shark license, the group is looking for a license for a whale shark, a sea lion, a walrus and a sea turtle.
The first license was awarded to a commercial fisherman, and he was able to use it to fish the humpback whale, which was one of the state and federal government’s top endangered species.
“They’re our primary line of defense in this industry,” Sauer said.
“We don’t have a lot of other places to go.”
Fishers also are hopeful that the new licenses will open up a more robust industry to the public.
“The license will help our state and local fishermen expand their fishing opportunities,” said Jennifer Segal, director of the Southern California Coastal Conservation Commission.
“I hope that this license will serve as a model for other states to look at.”
Segal said the license is needed because there are only a handful of sharks in the world that are allowed to be used for fishing, while dolphins are hunted for their fins.
“With the introduction of the shark licenses, we’re seeing that the public has a greater understanding of the need for these marine animals,” Segal told ABC.