Recreational fishing for sharks and rays from a boat, jetty or shore is a popular activity in South Australia, with most of the fisheries adopting catch and release practices.
In SA, there are around 65 different species of sharks and rays, with the Port Jackson Shark, Southern Fiddler Ray, Southern Eagle Ray, Gummy Shark, School Shark, and Bronze Whaler commonly caught by recreational fishers.
While the majority are released back into the water, it is important that fishers follow appropriate gear and handling procedures to ensure the ethical and humane treatment of our aquatic species. This is particularly important given the endangered status of the Coastal Stingaree, and vulnerable status of the Shortfin Mako, Dusky Whaler, Great White Shark, Smooth Hammerhead and School Shark.
Gear and handling procedures
Best practice gear and handling procedures ensure the ethical and humane treatment of captured animals, which is vital to the survival, sustainable management and conservation of sharks and rays.
Sharks and rays play important roles in our aquatic ecosystem and handling practices can impact survival rates.
All sharks and rays not planned to be retained, should be immediately returned to the water.The below guide applies to ‘best practice’ recreational fishing of sharks and rays:
State-wide gear restrictions
- Use hooks less than size 12/o.
- Nylon coated wire trace must be less than or equal to 2mm in diameter.
Metropolitan shark fishing gear restrictions
The following restrictions apply when shark fishing in the area between the southernmost breakwater at Outer Harbor and Yankalilla Bay between 5am and 9pm daily:
- The use of wire trace or a monofilament trace exceeding 1mm in diameter is prohibited.
- Hooks must not exceed a shank length greater than 56mm and a gape greater than 23mm between 5am and 9pm.
- A combination or gang of hooks that are joined by threading the point of one through the eye of another must not be used.
We recommend use of non-stainless steel circle hooks, wire cutters and suitable gloves. Bait and berleying restrictions also apply in South Australian waters.
Download the Sharks and Rays handling procedure brochure ()
- When catch-and-release fishing, human safety on the vessel, and the welfare of the shark or ray, must each be considered carefully.
- Have all the necessary equipment ready to safely catch, handle and release the target species before commencing fishing.
- If possible, release the shark or ray without landing it and whilst it is in the water.
- A soft knotless landing net can be used for landing purposes if the shark or ray is small.
- If the shark or ray is hooked inside the mouth and will not be retained, cut the line as close as safely possible to the hook and release it immediately. See an illustration of how to cut a line when a shark or ray is hooked ()
- Never lift a shark or ray by its tail. See an illustration ()
- Take care not to squeeze the gills as these are delicate structures that can easily be damaged.
- Do not enter the radius within a tail length of rays during handling and release, as large smooth and black rays can use their tail and barbs to strike at the area near their own head, which can be very dangerous.
- Do not touch rays on the tail as the venom in the barbs is toxic and can cause painful injuries.
- If sharks or rays have had to be landed, avoid placing them on warm or dry surfaces. Do not expose them to the sun for extended periods. See an illustration ()
- A large, soft, wet cloth can be carefully placed over the eyes of the shark and rays to help calm the animal and keep handlers safe. See an illustration of using a cloth on a shark ()
- Once landed, resuscitatethe animal by running water across the gills. This can be done using salt water deck washes, buckets, or by leaving the animal in the ater and moving it slowly forwards either by walking on the shore or using the boats engine when at sea. See an illustration ()
- Keep hands behind the line of the pectoral fins when handling sharks to reduce the chances of being bitten.
- Release the shark or ray unharmed back into the water as soon as possible.
Shark handling video
Sharks and Rays Biology and Identification
Sharks and rays are generally long-lived, slow growing, late maturing and produce few offspring when compared to most bony fish. All efforts must be taken to optimise the survival of sharks and rays destined to be returned to the water.
Most people wrongly assume that because of the predatory nature of some sharks and rays, they are strong and resilient animals. While this may be the case for some species, all are potentially vulnerable to injuries involving capture and landing during fishing activities and therefore should be handled using appropriate techniques.
Sharks and rays die slow death when left on the jetty or shore. If fish are to be retained, they should be killed humanely, as quickly as possible, following the national code of practice for recreational fishing.
Image © NSW DPI
Bronze Whalers are found in continental shelf and gulf waters of South Australia. The species is highly mobile and has a strong seasonality in South Australian waters. Bronze whalers are most commonly sighted and captured between spring and autumn. They range in size up to 3.2 m and live for up to 32 years. Bronze whalers mostly feed on fish and squid. Litter sizes are generally very small with the annual number of female pups produced equal to <5, size at sexual maturity is ~16 years, and growth is slow in this species. Tracking shows individuals migrate to Western Australia and eastern Australia, with large adults leaving the gulfs in autumn to seek out warmer shelf waters. Bronze whalers are characterised by:
- bronze, copper in colour on dorsal side
- pale cream to white undersides
- long upper tail lobes
- hook-shaped, non-serrated upper teeth.
The Dusky Shark is found in continental shelf and gulf waters of South Australia. The species ventures into temperate waters during the warmer periods of late spring, summer and early autumn, yet is mostly found in tropical, sub-tropical waters. They range in size up to 3.5 m and live for up to 55 years. Dusky Sharks produce around three female pups per year, reach sexual maturity at 20 years of age and grow very slowly. Dusky Sharks are occasionally captured in the same places where Bronze Whalers are found.
Dusky Sharks can easily be differentiated from Bronze Whalers by their distinct ridge running between the two dorsal fins on their back towards their tail. Sometimes the ridge also has small wavy lines running away from it. Some Dusky Sharks are covered in a distinct, slimy coating on the upper side of their body. Dusky Sharks feed on a wide variety of invertebrates, fish, squid, other sharks and rays, and marine mammals. Like the Bronze Whaler, tracking shows Dusky Sharks are highly migratory and large juveniles move between South Australia and Western Australia in autumn. Dusky Sharks are characterised by:
- dark brown to grey in colour on the dorsal side
- pale to white underside
- charcoal to black tips on the underside of most fins
- short, broadly rounded snout
- long upper tail lobes
- triangular, serrated teeth.
White Sharks are protected in all South Australian waters. The species is warm-blooded, and both the juvenile and adult life history stages are found in Southern Australian gulf, shelf and oceanic waters throughout the year. White sharks are highly mobile individuals migrate between South Australia and Western Australian waters. They range in size up to 6 m, live for up to 70 years. Juvenile white sharks (<3-4 m) mostly feed on fishes and squids, and as they become larger, their diet changes to incorporate other sharks, rays, and marine mammals. Large white sharks are often associated with floating or beached whale carcasses. White sharks are born at ~1.3 m in size and Litter sizes are small, with the annual number of female pups produced equal to <2. Litter sizes can be up to 17, but gestation may be 1.8 months with a 3-year reproductive cycle. Size at sexual maturity is ~4.5 m at 15 years of age, and growth is slow. White sharks must be treated with caution, and most bites on humans, some of which are fatal in SA waters have been linked this species. White Sharks are characterised by:
- conical snout
- triangular serrated teeth
- dark grey, sliver grey to bronze on upper (dorsal) side
- white underside
- black tips on the underside of large, white pectoral fins
- large tail, pectoral and dorsal fin, with a distinct keel-like feature where the body joins the tail.
In South Australia, the Smooth Hammerhead is found in waters of both gulfs and continental shelf waters out to depths of ~500 m. The species is most commonly sighted swimming at the surface in gulf waters during calm, hot weather in summer. Smooth Hammerheads range in size up to ~3.5 m and females mature at ~2.7 m. Litters sizes are generally larger than for the whaler sharks (20-50 pups) and gestation periods have been found to span 10-11 months. The species feeds on squids, prawns, crabs and pelagic fish, with large individuals sometimes associated with tuna and mackerel schools. The species is considered to be slow growing as found for other members of the genus. Highest estimated ages for specimens considerably smaller than the known maximum size have exceeded 20 years.
Smooth Hammerheads are characterised by:
- olive to grey-brown back
- white underside
- dusky tips on ventral fins
- long upper lobe of tail with large upright dorsal fin that appears over-sized compared to the length of the shark
- small angular serrated teeth
- hammer-shaped with eyes on each end of head that bulges forward with no central indentation (as found for scalloped hammerhead).
Sevengill Sharks have:
- greyish brown or black back, sometimes with dark spots or blotches
- 7 gills
- extremely long lobe on their upper tail.
Up to 4.8 metres.
Common threshers grow up to 5.5 m in length. They have a distinctly long upper tail lobe that is approximately the same overall length as the body from the snout to the origin of the tail. Common threshers are found in both gulfs, in shelf waters and along the continental shelf slope. The species is most commonly captured in spring and autumn. Tracking has shown they move between inshore and outer shelf waters, and move rapidly throughout the water column on a daily basis. The regularly associate with river mouths, reef slopes and banks where small pelagic fishes aggregate. The species is warm blooded, capable of very high swimming speeds and is known to jump out of the water either when hooked or whilst feeding. They have very large eyes, a small mouth with small sharp cutting teeth. Common threshers are specialist feeders that mostly prey on small pelagic fishes and squids. They often whip and stun their prey with their tail before consuming it. They grow slowly, reach sexual maturity at ~3.5 to 4 m and only produce small litters of 2 to 7 pups.
Common threshers are characterised by:
- grey, grey, to silver/purple on dorsal side
- white underside
- very long upper tail lobe with small curved cusp near the tip.
- some individuals have distinctive blotchy ‘cow hide’ pattern from dark to down flanks near anal fin and tail.
Image © NSW DPI
The shortfin mako is a warm-blooded and highly migratory species found in South Australian shelf and oceanic waters throughout the year. Some juvenile and adult shortfin makos also sometimes visit reefs in southern Spencer Gulf. This species is capable of very high swimming speeds and can jump out of the water either when hooked or whilst feeding. Individuals migrate between South Australia and Western Australian waters, and south of the continent into cool, sub-tropical waters, south of 43-degrees latitude. They range in size up to 4 m, live for up to 30 years. Their diet comprises, fish, other sharks and rays, pelagic squids, and marine mammals. The species is born at 60-70 cm in size and litter sizes are 12-16 pups, with a 18 month gestation and a 3-year reproductive cycle. Size at sexual maturity is ~2.8 m at 18 years of age and they grow slowly. Live shortfin makos must be released unharmed to the water in Commonwealth managed fisheries operating off South Australia (outside 3 nm). Recreational fishers can currently take shortfin makos in South Australian waters.
Shortfin makos are characterised by:
- indigo/dark blue fading to light blue, silver and white underside
- sharply pointed conical snout
- long slender body
- long slender inward curving teeth
- distinct keel-like feature where the body joins the tail.
Port Jackson Shark
Port Jackson Sharks are bottom feeding sharks that are found throughout South Australian gulf and shelf waters out to depths of 275 m. The species grows to ~1.65 m, yet most specimens are less than 1 m in length. Port Jackson sharks have relatively small home ranges compared to many other shark species, but are capable of movements in the scale of 100s of km. Individuals are slow growing and live for up to 18 years. Females mature at 75 cm and between 12 and 17 years of age and adults have lifespans of up to 35 years. They position their spiral shaped eggs under ledges and in caves, and cracks during Spring. Embryos have incubation of 10–11 months, and four months into this period, the egg capsule opens subsequent to hatching of the pup. The species produced an average of 16 eggs per breeding cycle, and pups are born at sizes from 18-32 cm.
Port Jackson Sharks are characterised by:
- large blunt heads
- two thick spines on the front edge of their first and second dorsal fins
- a combination of small triangular teeth and crushing plates.
- spiral shaped brown egg cases that they lay on the bottom during Winter-Spring
- brown backs with dark brown stripes.
Image © NSW DPI
- flattened bodies
- camouflaged markings
- dermal lobes in the front of their mouth
- sharp conical teeth.
Up to 3 metres.
Gummy Sharks are grey in colour and have small white spots. The Gummy Shark is characterised by having small, flat teeth for crushing prey, rather than typical triangular teeth of many other species. They are found in gulf, shelf and shelf slope waters out to ~350 m. They attain size up to ~1.9m born at 35 cm and females reach sexual maturity at 5 years of age and 1.1 m in length. Litters sizes are generally about 14 pups, yet can also reach up to 57 pups, and gestation periods span ~12 months, with a year reproductive cycle. The species mostly feeds on octopus, small crabs and other crustaceans.
Gummy Sharks are characterised by:
- grey colour on dorsal side and white on underside
- small white spots on dorsal side
- long and slender body
- second dorsal fin nearly as large as the first.
The school shark forms aggregations and are found in gulf, shelf and shelf slope waters out to ~600 m. The species is sometimes caught when targeting Snapper and Whiting in gulf and coastal waters. School sharks are born at 30 cm in length and range in size up to ~1.9 m. The school shark is slow growing and long-lived (60 years). Females mature at ~1.3 m. Litters sizes are generally 30 pups and gestation periods have been found to span 12 months, with a 3-year reproductive cycle. They are a highly mobile species capable of long distance migrations across the central and eastern Great Australian Bight. The species mostly feeds on squids and small to medium sized pelagic fish. Nursery areas are thought to be limited to the south-eastern Australian range, with very few small juveniles (neonates) found in other southern Australian regions where mature adults tend to be caught. The school shark is classified as Conservation Dependent under the Australian Commonwealth Government Environmental Protection, Biodiversity and Conservation Act (EPBC Act) (1999). Fisheries that take the species as bycatch are currently managed via a stock rebuilding strategy, and bag limits need to be low to ensure the recovery of the stock is successful.
School Sharks are characterised by:
- grey back and slender shape
- slanted eye
- second dorsal fin smaller than the first
- tail upper lobe larger than lower lobe.
- small sharp angular, hooked teeth with three large serrations.
Southern Fiddler Rays
They are found in both gulfs, saline rivers, mangrove habitats and continental shelf waters of South Australia from shallow intertidal areas out to 200 m. They inhabit patchy sea-grass, sand, and shallow reefs habitats. The species is born at 25 cm and attain at least 1.5 m in length. Females reach sexual maturity at ~90 cm in length. Litters sizes are generally very small from 2-5, with a gestation period of 12 months and pups born in autumn. There is limited biological and ecological data for this species in South Australia. Southern Fiddler Rays are characterised by:
- slightly pointed snout and oval-like disc shape
- two colour morphs 1. mustard/yellow to brown colouration with a combination of cream/white stripes and spots; rarer morph has blue/black to chocolate-brown with irregular white stripes or spots (formerly known as Magpie Fiddler)
- white to cream underside
- no poisonous barbs, but have small, reduced bony spines on dorsal side of tail (not harmful)
- two dorsal fins on tail similar in size to upper lobe of tail.
Southern Eagle Rays
The are found in saline rivers, mangrove habitats, both gulfs and continental shelf waters of South Australia from shallow intertidal areas out to at least 100 m depths. They mostly inhabit the soft sands, mud flats and patchy sea-grass and sand habitats, but are also found over both deep and shallow reefs. Southern Eagle Rays mostly feed on crabs, molluscs, fish and squids and they regularly bury themselves in the sand for the purposes of camouflage. There is limited biological and ecological data for this species in South Australia but they are considered to be highly mobile. Southern Eagle Rays are characterised by:
- brown, mustard to olive coloured skin on top and white underside
- pointed wings
- blue to grey spots
- a long thin tail with 1 to 2 small serrated poisonous barbs located just behind the small dorsal fin.
- slimy skin
- large spiracles (holes that take in water to the gills whilst the animal is stationary).
They reach at least 2.5 m from wing tip to tip. They are found in gulfs, saline rivers, mangrove habitats and continental shelf waters of South Australia from shallow intertidal areas and out to at least 150 m depths. Like Southern Eagle Rays, this species inhabits mud-flats and patchy seas-grass and sand habitats, over deep and shallow reefs. They also feed on crabs, fish and squids and molluscs and they regularly bury themselves in the sand. There is limited biological and ecological data for this species in South Australia. Whilst not considered to be aggressive, if handling is necessary, extreme caution should be maintained due to their ability to strike animals located in front of themselves in self-defense.
Smooth Stingrays are characterised by:
- Black to brown in colour on top with small white spots tending to white underside with some animals having a blotchy ‘cow-hide’ pattern.
- Pointed wings
- Blue to grey spots
- A long thin tail with 1 to 2 large serrated poisonous barbs located just behind the small dorsal fin.
- Slimy skin
- Large spiracles (holes that take in water to the gills whilst the animal is stationary).