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.
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).