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Awendaw man charged in SC shark branding case

shark brand

This image was re-posted on Facebook by a S.C. Department of Natural Resources employee in an effort to find a person who was branding sharks near Dewees Inlet. Provided

An Awendaw man has been ticketed for branding a shark with a personal insignia.

The incident and photographs posted on a Facebook boating page led to a string of repostings that outraged anglers.

The charge, illegal tagging of a saltwater fish, is a state misdemeanor that could result in a fine from $25 to $200.

A S.C. Department of Natural Resources spokesman would not say if other charges could be coming.

A DNR employee first reposted the photos in an effort to track down the source.

"The incident first came to DNR’s attention when concerned anglers contacted the agency’s Marine Division after they began catching sharks that appeared to have been marked with a symbol of some kind in the vicinity of Dewees Island and Isle of Palms and photographed them," the department said in a statement on the ticketing.

"Some of the photos were also shared on social media," the department said.

The 56-year-old who was ticketed was cooperative when shown the evidence and might not have been aware the branding was illegal, the statement said. 

The photos showed a distinct branding — a figure that could be a J or an F, shaped like a fishing hook, enclosed in a circle beneath the dorsal fin. It was as large as the palm of an adult's hand.

From the photos, the brand appears to have been put on with a propane torch or "freeze branded" with dry ice, according to horrified anglers who responded to the post.

"I’m glad the authorities were able to track down the individual," said Mike Popovich of the Charleston-based Coastal Shark Tagging Initiative team.

There's a legal way to track and monitor sharks, he said, by taking part in the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's Apex Predator tagging program.

Insignia, or logo-branding, has been used by some individuals and practices for centuries, considered a mark of identification or ownership. Cattle branding is maybe the widest recognized form of it. 

Sharks are a popular catch among some anglers and charter groups because of their fearsome appearance and fighting nature. At least 39 of the world’s 400-plus shark species are found off South Carolina.

Most species aren't federally protected, but they generally are considered over-fished worldwide, largely because of an illegal but lucrative trade in shark fins. The fins are thought to be an aphrodisiac in some cultures.

Reach Bo Petersen at @bopete on Twitter or 843-937-5744.

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