A commercial fisherman pulled an 8.6-foot, 310-pound bull shark from his pound net trap at the mouth of the Patuxent River in Southern Maryland on Monday — an uncommon catch that has been the buzz of the bay as the picture has made its rounds.
Larry “Boo” Powley, 65, of Hoopers Island said he found the shark, which had swum into the trap just below Cedar Point to feed on the fish inside, when he checked his four pound nets at sunrise.
It wasn’t the first shark he’s caught in the Chesapeake Bay, but he was astounded at this one’s size.
“I’ve been on the water for 42 years,” Powley said. “I’ve never seen one that big.”
A shark turns up in a pound net in the bay, usually in Southern Maryland, about every other year, sometimes every third year, said Erik Zlokovitz, a Department of Natural Resources’ recreational fisheries outreach coordinator who records large catches.
The last one was caught in the Potomac River near Point Lookout a few years ago, he said.
“It’s not extremely rare,” Zlokovitz said. “I would call it an irregular occurrence.”
At first glance, the shark in the photo looked massive — some were estimating 11 feet long, which would have been far larger than the typical 6-foot-to-8-foot range, he said.
At 8.6 feet, it’s still larger than normal. Its 310-pound weight initially made Zlokovitz think it might’ve been a pregnant female — until he saw the claspers, a shark’s male reproductive organs.
“That length and weight is probably the largest I’ve seen in the last 10 years, but it’s in the range they’re known [for],” he said. “It’s a heavy shark for its length.”
A commercial fishing industry liaison and a former member of the Tidal Fisheries Advisory Council verified the measurements, he said.
“We’ve had guys Photoshop stuff and fake stuff,” Zlokovitz said.
Since his photo with the shark went up on Facebook, Powley’s phone hasn’t stopped ringing. It’s all the same questions.
“People say, ‘Oh, my god! You catch that today? Where? How big? How long? How much did it weigh?’” he said. “They’re worried he’s going to bite them.”
It’s unusual to see a shark, Powley said, especially given the giant infusion of fresh water in the bay from the Conowingo Dam following the record July rains.
“We’re not used to seeing them up this far, especially with this much rainwater,” he said. “But that bull shark can adapt to that.”
Bull sharks are among the meanest and most aggressive predators, but this one appeared weak, Powley said. Unlike the fish, when it swam into the trap, it didn’t have much room to move, which sharks must do to breathe.
Pound net traps, which are required to be registered with the Department of Natural Resources, are at least 16 feet long by 16 feet wide at the surface of the water with a netting floor and open top.
The traps are generally set in 12 to 20 feet of water — although this one was on the deeper end of that range — and used to catch all manner of fish, including striped bass, bluefish, catfish, croaker, flounder, menhaden, perch, spot and weakfish.
Powley said sharks previously fought their way out of his traps, costing him hundreds of dollars in repairs, as well as time and whatever fish he’d caught.
Unlike those who were swearing off swimming in the online comments, though, Powley said he was glad to see the shark in the water. They eat cownose rays, which are a top predator of crabs and oysters — and thus, an enemy of the watermen.
“Worst predator you got in the bay,” he said. “Shows up just in time for the first shed of soft crabs.”
Under Maryland law, Powley could have kept the shark, but bull sharks aren’t as popular to eat as mako and threshers.
“They’re only worth 50 cents a pound,” he said.
He threw it back overboard, but not before taking the picture.