A nasty-smelling -- and locally developed -- shark repellent so effective it tends to leave humans gasping for breath has been given accolades in a report to Congress by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.
The project was funded by a NOAA grant that was awarded through Florida Keys Community College, as part of NOAA's Bycatch Reduction Engineering Program. The report prepared for Congress stresses the efforts being made by researchers in coastal communities to develop ways to reduce bycatch, whereby sharks, and other unintended species are caught up in nets intended for shrimp, or other seafood commercially harvested on long lines.
The two grants from NOAA has helped Dr. Patrick Rice and his research assistant, Brian DeSanti, to experiment with variations on the repellent theme, with the ultimate goal being the doing away with shark bycatch altogether.
The first batch was made from pieces of dead and rotting shark corpses, and caused such a literal stink on FKCC's Key West campus that it was moved to a storage locker at Anchor Towing on Rockland Key.
There it was tended to by DeSanti, whom Rice noted, has no sense of smell.
"It made him perfect for the job, but unfortunately, I guess it also makes him less sensitive to the smell that other people are having to deal with," said Rice, whose many job titles include principal investigator for marine research at FKCC. "The original discovery was that sharks don't like the smell of dead rotting sharks. So the grant that we were working with from NOAA basically was designed to take the dead bycatch generated during commercial fishing to turn into shark repellent, and then apply it during commercial fishing to reduce the bycatch . . . However, we're now using synthetic compounds to achieve this goal."
During that first grant period, Rice used shark repellent made from rotten shark and inserted into squid bait attached by hooks to fishing lines. But that turned out to be impractical because it was hard to make a consistent shark repellent from batch to batch which complicated the research, according to Rice. During the next period of the NOAA grant, the researchers identified four chemical compounds in dead sharks that repel other sharks. The problem was how to introduce the repellent into the fishing process.
"That's when I came up with the idea of a shark repellent bait using synthetic shark repellent packed into time-release capsules," Rice said. "If you can get fishermen using it, it becomes part of their routine and they have an economic incentive because more hooks will be available to target species like tuna and swordfish. We've reduced bycatch by about 35 percent which could result in saving as many as 8 million sharks per year. Our ultimate goal is to eliminate bycatch altogether. We're very optimistic that this shark repellent bait can be commercialized in the near future."
This ongoing research is being conducted on a U.S. commercial pelagic longline fishing vessel operating in the straits of Florida about 25 miles south of Key West.
"We are incredibly proud to have Dr. Rice on our team," said FKCC President Jonathan Gueverra. "His hard work is providing valuable information and practical solutions to create a more harmonious balance between sharks and humans.