Taking a Bite Out of Bull Shark BS; Odd Place to Land a Tasty Cobia

By JAY MANN | Jun 12, 2019
Photo by: Jay Mann Lonely jetty caster.

Surf City — I think I’m losing my conservational edge. My implacable desire to save vanishing forms of marine life, in this case sharks, always takes a direct hit to the placability bone when I read about things like the 17-year-old gal who lost her leg last week to what was truly a ferocious shark attack in North Carolina. She is still with us only because of a hyper-heroic effort by her dad, who bashed his daughter’s attacker into retreat. Per witnesses, the adrenaline-jacked dad landed at least five haymakers on the head of the no-holds-barred biter before the bloodthirsty fish decided it just couldn’t properly enjoy its meal with fists raining down. I’ll digress only long enough to note that the man’s punches inadvertently knocked cold the standing belief that a mere punch to the nose of an attacking shark is enough to send it sneezingly off. Maybe this shark simply hadn’t gotten the nose-blow memo.

“Thank God our son (the girl’s dad) was with her. … He punched the shark in the face five times before it let go,” Facebooked the victim’s grandmother shortly after the attack.

Adding to the day’s lifesaving heroics were first responders, who managed to somehow stem the profuse bleeding from a gaping missing-chunk wound to the girl’s upper leg. It was the initial loss of blood to the leg that would lead to her lower leg being amputated.

As if the leg wound wasn’t dire enough, during the girl’s effort to stave off the shark, her hand was torn open. It will take many surgeries to see if she’ll regain normal usage.

The grandmother wrote, “Now (she) will lose one leg above the knee and some fingers.”

Amazingly, the teen is soldiering on. Barely out of surgery and heavily put upon by world media, she still advocated for shark conservation, offering one of those hold-no-blame stances.

And right there is when/where my conservation begins faltering. I can’t be as forgivingly gracious. My immediate reaction is to grab shark-neutralizing weaponry, track down the guilty shark and remove a tit-for-tat chunk of its flesh. I see it as taking a compensatory bite out of crime, so to speak.

By the by, I’m not trying to be at all snarky about this ugly incident. I’m simply being peeved in my typical wise-ass manner. That gal, now having to live the rest of her life with a prosthetic leg, deserves some due peevedness on many of our parts.

As to what type of gray suit bit the gal, I don’t need to await the exact forensic details of the bite, like the outline or the shape of the teeth. This had the unmistakable hallmarks, i.e. bite marks, of a bull shark, a species so despicable it gives a bad name to the whole shark realm. Hell, other sharks I’ve talked with say they can’t stand bull sharks, some pointing out scars from run-ins with this bead-brained species.

I can buttress my bull shark indictment based on the attacking fish’s maniacal aggression and unwillingness to readily give up the attack. If I’m right – and I am – that very same biter is likely still lurking in the general vicinity. Bulls tend to linger, whereas other sharks that unwittingly bite a human tend to take off for the underwater hills. I’ll tritely allude to the tight cluster of Jersey shark attacks of “Jaws” fame, 1916, the result of a rogue bull shark hanging out for a lengthy stay.

There’s absolutely no acceptability to my saying “Get rid of bull sharks and you’ll just about eliminate serious life-threatening shark attacks on the Eastern Seaboard” … so I won’t even mention it. If I did, it might seem as if I was wantonly suggesting that we put a bounty on bull sharks. That’s absurd! Or, so says you.

With my vengeful thinking now fully displayed, you get a sense of how I might be losing my conservational edge. Hell, if I’m not careful, I might advocate going after tiger sharks in Hawaii, where a just-retired man was recently killed by one off Maui. Those conserved tigers have bitten and maimed humans to their cold hearts’ content in Hawaii. I should mention that Hawaii has the good sense to go whole hog after a specific suspect tiger shark.

Cycling back to my empathy for the be-bitten, it feels wrong to allow de-leggings and such to carry on in the name of shark stock sensitivity. In the same breath, I admittedly have very little bad to say about protecting all those other less-bitey shark species … though human-munching great whites are also beginning to piss me off. Hmmm. Even I see how my vengeance route can become a slippery slope for the entire marine ecosystem.

For you sharkophiles, there’s no need to fret over wavering conservationists like myself. The laws of the land, as they apply to the super saving of sharks, won’t be teetering any time soon. America need not worry about relinquishing its lofty position as the world’s most shark-attacked nation.

My insinuating that something drastic needs to be done about man/woman-biters, most notably bull sharks, has no bite to it. So, here’s hoping it doesn't echo amid witness reports, like one from the North Carolina attack: “All of a sudden, everyone started screaming, and I looked to my left and they were rushing towards this little girl. She looked little but she's actually 17,” eyewitness Lacy Whorton told reporters. “And it looked like she was belly crawling on the beach and officials were running towards her and whistles were blowing and everyone was screaming and they quickly got everybody out of the water.”

IDLING AROUND: Chatted with a longtime commercial fishing buddy who said that smooth dogfish helped save his spring season, economically speaking. His fishing year-to-date had been badly damaged by an inexplicable collapse of the monkfish market, which dropped in value by over 50 percent (per pound) in just one year. That sinkage ushered in the targeting of smooth dogs, which surpassed the profitability of harvesting thought-top-shelf monkfish. That decline in monkfish demand is weird considering the world is more than ever relying on seafood as protein – with “wild-caught” being the standard of excellence.

This brings up a huge paradox in the overall fish management realm. As anglers have a banner year catching this-and-that species, the professional side of harvesting might not be mirroring same. This spring, bluefish made a fine nearshore showing but were not the stuff of high harvestability for commercialites. That disconnect makes it a crap-shoot when trying to conservationally manage stocks with both recreational and commercial interests in mind. That said, I will never give up the concept of maintaining healthy fish stocks, allowing fishing luck to naturally play out as it may.

I received a photo of a dead Atlantic sturgeon that had washed up on the beach. Sadness. It was maybe 30 inches long. Ideally, they can grow to over 6 feet long – or at least they once did, way back in the days before they became rarer than striper teeth. Based on the photo alone, the sturgeon looked healthy, short of the deader-than-a-door-nail thing. This indicates it likely died an unnatural death, i.e. at the hands of man – in one way or another. The near-gone prehistoric species can’t afford even a single DOA. And see, I’m still highly conservational at the core.

You might have heard that a mighty fine cobia was taken out of the LBI surf, caught by angling aficionado Bob Misak. Is a cobia rare when surf fishing LBI? It borders on being unheard of. I’ve never read of one caught in the surf, even in the way-back angling annals I faithfully read, some write-ups dating back to the 1700s. The catch was so anomalous, I was waiting for some sort of punchline. All I got was photo proof and testimony.

The unusual catch – of the usual offshore fish – was taken in 60-degree surf temps. While that is far below what the species enjoys in its more common down-south haunts, the species is famously eurythermal. It can tolerate water temps ranging from near 90 degrees to as low as 34 degrees. Very few fish can brag of that thermal-swing tolerability.

Why the cobia was in so close could have to do with the concurrent arrival of stingrays and bluefish. Being a top-notch opportunistic scavenger, cobia tend to tail other species to feed on scraps. They’ll even shadow schooling sharks, though short-finned makos have been known to swing around and steal a cobia’s shadow with a couple healthy bites.

I assume Bob kept his surf cobia. The species makes for delicious eating, even when they’re huge. The state record is 87 pounds. Seeing it’s an elongated fish, those record models are quite lengthy.

I’ve steaked out larger (donated) cobia for barbecuing, to the delight of all who taste-tested them for the first time. The Food Network had an episode of “Iron Chef America” dedicated to cobia being competitively prepared by top chefs. As testimony to their tastiness, fast-growing cobia are now being aquaculturally grown in open-ocean pens, with Asian demand footing the bill.

The reason you’ll seldom see “wild-caught” cobia being sold is their fiercely solitary nature. They’re all roguish. They only get groupie during a short open-sea spawning period. Should you catch a cobia, it’s always one-and-done, though a popular dining zone might loosely hold a few for a short time. Interestingly, striped bass and cobia do not feed well together. Usually laid-back bass will gang up to drive off interloping cobia. It’s likely an unwillingness to share foodstuff that creates the conflict.

Staying oddish, there was a large houndfish taken in Barnegat Inlet. This is another species that usually likes the water a lot warmer. However, houndfish, though rarely heard of in the past, are becoming common come summer. They’re not to be confused with ubiquitous needlefish, which are identical in shape but minuscule by comparison. I’m betting New Jersey has a shot at world record houndfish based on the hugeness of some being caught in recent summers.

RUNDOWN: Over the weekend, I did some drive-abouts within fishing circles, doing a lengthy stop at BL South Jetty. As to fish being caught there, it was quiet to an extreme, merely a few undersized fluke and a couple eater blues hitting the rocks. Yes, the too-small flatties were nicely released, one fellow risking a slippery rock climb-down to more gently loose a near-keeper fluke. You da man. Of course, there was also the guy who Frisbeed his undersized fluke back into the water.

Talking with regulars, the South Jetty never caught fire this spring, despite a few nice bluefish pushes. Fish were simply too few and far between to match up with recent spring hookathons. Even surfcasting had the slammer edge. I recorded that, with some dozen-fish catches taken from Island suds.

Overall, the dang-decent gator bite is backing off, as is expected in June.

Boat bassing continues to see major trophy-taking sessions, with big-ass bass being maybe a little too common. Photos of cows galore.

My ongoing fret with kept cows is how hard it is to put jumbo-striper meat to proper gastronomic use. Just-keeper stripers – 28 to 32 inches size – are truly the best eaters. I realize those humble-sized hookups lack the weigh-in pizzazz now sought after for Facebook gratification. But your average cell phone now shoots in resolution on par with high-end cameras. A photo is worth a thousand weigh-ins. Yes, I’m fully encouraging – not militantly demanding – the inviting home of only small stripers … and the free-Willying of larger models.

A buddy smoked a slew of “cocktail” bluefish and left some off for me to try. He outdid himself. He, too, is a former cook/chef, so knows the spicing ropes. Dried or jerked bluefish always comes down to intricate spicing, demanding a strong marinade that doesn’t simultaneously spice-cook the fish. Many stronger herbs and spices literally melt/cook the fish during marinating and drying, rendering it too soft when dried. A better jerked bluefish should need ripping, vis-à-vis a meat jerky. A smoked bluefish should be very firm (light tan) inside the dark coat.

One of the finest uses for smaller bluefish is baking fillets, then breaking them into pieces for bluefish salad – identical to tuna or chicken salad, though maybe go heavier on chopped celery and celery seed, lighter on minced (mild) onions and enhanced a tad with Worcestershire sauce and Old Bay Seasoning.

jaymann@thesandpaper.net

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