Wayne Bennett of New Smyrna Beach is a surf fishing guide and volunteer with the National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration Cooperative Shark Tagging Program.
He is a common sight in East Volusia, wearing his signature orange fishing shirts and carrying his 15-foot-long fishing rods.
As a member of the cooperative, he catches, measures and evaluates the overall condition of sharks, then tags them using an M-Type dart tag. The information is then sent to the National Marine Fisheries Service with cards provided with the tags they issue him.
From Canaveral National Seashore north to Ormond-by-the-Sea is his home fishing area.
The information provided to NMFS assists biologists and regulators at the Federal level to determine the health of the population by numbers, changes in migratory patterns, and exact growth of individual tagged and recaptured sharks. Shark behavior and mortality rates are also examined along with age and growth rates.
Shark taggers are few.
“I do not have exact numbers of members of the CSTP in Volusia County,” Mr. Bennett said. “ I personally know of three that are members, but only myself and one other member are actively tagging sharks on a regular basis.
“I have been fishing both coasts of Florida off and on since I was old enough to hold a fishing pole,” he said. “My fascination with sharks began as a boy helping with gill nets on the gulf coast. Often we would get a shark tangled in the net. Such beautiful, yet dangerous looking animals. As scientists and environmentalists helped educate the public, including myself, on the importance of these apex predators of the sea, I wanted to do my part. Volunteering with the NMFS was the ticket.”
He added, “I enjoy sharing my knowledge and concern for all of our local species of sharks on the Volusia County coast. I fish during the day on portions of our public beaches that are not busy with surfers or swimmers. People walk by and ask questions or take pictures as I fight, land, tag and release the sharks.”
In July 2019, the Florida Wildlife and Conservation Commission enacted new regulations, and required training and certification for all people that intentionally target sharks while fishing from shore. This training must be completed annually and will help with the survivability of sharks caught from shore.
“I consider myself a true land-based shark fisherman,” Mr. Bennett said. “I wade out from the sand, cast my baits and fight the fish quickly for a strong release. If I could give anyone advice about sharks or shark fishing, it would be to not be complacent or think that there is such a thing as a ‘nice’ shark. There are sharks that are more docile, but most are aggressive and territorial. All sharks have three main missions, eat, reproduce and survive. We should do everything we can to help them complete their mission as it in turn helps the ocean to maintain a healthy balance in the food chain, coral reef health and the ecosystem of the entire world.”
Mr. Bennett also has been a fishing guide for the last five years and can be found fishing sunrise until noon on weekdays somewhere between Ormond and Bethune Beach Park, and Canaveral National Seashore on the weekends.
Any shark over 36 inches when measured nose to the fork of the tail can be tagged.
“Highly migratory species like the blacktip and spinner shark are my favorite to tag as the travel distance on a recapture can be much higher than a local non-migratory species,” he said.
Mr. Bennett is available to take groups fishing, but he has retired from full-time charters. He has been taking marine biology students and shark research professionals out regularly.