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Coastal Sharks

For rules about shark fishing in NYS, visit our Recreational Fishing Regulations.

Shark Spotter

Sand Tiger Shark and school of fish
Sand tiger shark

We invite you to submit your observations of sharks in the wild. The observations you submit will help biologists record the presence of sharks in New York State waters and will also help to further the understanding of local shark ecology and behavior. If you are fishing, boating, or enjoying the beach and observe a shark, please report your sighting using the NYSDEC Shark Spotter digital survey (link leaves DEC's website).

Ecological Role

In the ocean, sharks are apex predators at the top of the food chain generally having few natural predators. They have been successfully roaming the seas for over 400 million years. As apex predators, sharks play an important role in regulating and maintaining the balance of intricate marine ecosystems. They remove sick and weak individuals from prey populations, and regulate species abundance, distribution, and diversity throughout the marine environment.

Sharks directly influence the abundance of their prey through predation. This in turn affects the abundance of the prey species of those animals, and so on. Predator avoidance can also change spatial distributions of the sharks' prey, ultimately influencing the community structure of marine habitats. The presence of sharks increases the species diversity of an ecosystem by preventing one species from monopolizing a limited resource, and preventing unchecked predation by other predatory species lower in the food chain.

Removal of apex predators like sharks can have complex and unpredictable consequences to marine ecosystems, which researchers are only beginning to understand.

Sharks had always been the apex predators of the oceans, until humans began refining our ability to harvest marine resources. Technology has improved many aspects of human life, but it has also given us the capacity to over-harvest finite resources.

Recreational Shark Fishing

Shark fishing is popular with recreational and tournament anglers. All New York anglers must apply for and carry the no fee Recreational Marine Fishing Registry. To fish for sharks, tuna, billfishes, and swordfish in federal waters, anglers must apply for a federal Highly Migratory Species (HMS) Permit (link leaves DEC website). All HMS permits are vessel based permits. For more specific information about the rules associated with the HMS permit, please review the HMS Compliance Guide for Recreational Fishing (link leaves DEC website).

Starting in 2018, all HMS permit holders that recreationally fish for, retain, possess, or land sharks are required to obtain a shark endorsement on their HMS permit. This requires completing a short online shark identification and fishing regulation quiz. For more detailed information about shark species identification, download and review the NOAA Fisheries Prohibited Shark Identification Placard and the Shark Identification Placard (links leave DEC website).

a J-hook on the left, and a Circle hook on the right
J-hook (left) and Circle hook (right), Photo Credit: NOAA Fisheries

Circle Hooks

When fishing for sharks with baited hooks, NYS and Federal regulations require that you use non-stainless steel, non-offset circle hooks.

Non-stainless steel hooks deteriorate over time, reducing harm to a fish if you are unable to retrieve the hook.

A circle hook's point is turned back toward the shank, forming a semi-circle shape. This shape causes the circle hook to lodge in a shark's mouth instead of other vulnerable areas such as its throat or gut. A J-hook is more likely to be swallowed and damage a shark's internal organs.

The use of circle hooks has been shown to increase the likelihood of post-release survival.

Prohibited Sharks

Commonly encountered prohibited shark species found in New York state waters include Sandbar ("Brown"), Dusky, and Sand Tiger sharks. These three species are primarily the only species of large (non-Dogfish) shark anglers will encounter from shore. Other species of prohibited shark found in the NY Bight include the White, Basking, Whale, and Atlantic Angel sharks. For a full list of all prohibited shark species, view the Recreational Shark Limits.

In New York State waters, it is illegal to take; or possess prohibited shark species. Do not fish for or target prohibited sharks. Catch and release does not ensure survival of these sharks.

Tagging sharks for NOAA's tagging program as a volunteer does not exempt you from local regulations. Special licenses are required for individuals to collect and tag prohibited species. There are multiple research organizations currently working with coastal shark species in New York. For more information on how DEC administers permits for research and handling of New York shark species, visit our Special Licenses Page.

Why are Certain Shark Species Prohibited?

Prohibited shark species share unique life history traits. They are generally long lived species which have slow growth, experience an older age at maturity, have long gestation periods, and produce few offspring in their lifetime. These life history traits leave these species especially vulnerable to the pressures that fishing has on their populations. The prohibited status gives these species the protection they need to maintain and rebuild their populations.

What to Do if you Catch a Prohibited Shark!

Treat any shark that you cannot identify as prohibited species and release it immediately. Remember, "If you don't know, let it go!"

If you catch a prohibited shark species, please adhere to the following guidelines:

From the Shore:
  • Minimize your fight time to prevent lethal exhaustion of the shark.
  • NEVER drag a shark onto dry land beyond the surf zone. Sharks caught from shore should be left in as much water as possible while maintaining the safety of the angler and those nearby.
    Dead Sand Tiger Shark with fishing gear stuck in the body
    Dead sand tiger shark that washed ashore with
    fishing gear still in gut,
    Photo Credit: Vincent Cavaleri
  • Keep onlookers in the area well clear of the shark.
  • Release the shark immediately. Do not delay release to take pictures.
  • Do not sit on the shark or pull back the snout to reveal the teeth.
  • If the shark is hooked in the jaw, use a long-handled de-hooking device to help with hook removal or bolt cutters to cut the hook.
  • If it is not possible to remove the hook, cut the leader as close to the hook as safely as the situation allows. Long lengths of leader left with the shark decrease its chance of survival after it is released.
  • Minimize handling. Touching the shark can put yourself and others at risk. It can also remove the shark's protective mucous layer and cause harm to the animal. If you need to handle the shark, use wet hands or a wet towel
From a Boat:
  • Minimize your fight time to prevent lethal exhaustion of the shark.
  • Always keep the shark in the water alongside your boat with its snout facing into the current.
  • Do not use a gaff. Instead hold the shark on the leader while moving the boat slowly ahead.
  • If the shark is hooked in the jaw, use a long-handled dehooking device to help with hook removal or bolt cutters to cut the hook.
  • If it is not possible to remove the hook, cut the leader as close to the hook as safely as the situation allows. Long lengths of leader left with the shark decrease its chance of survival after it is released.
  • Before you go fishing, watch NOAA Fisheries video (link leaves DEC website) for more information about handling and release of prohibited shark species from a boat.

Shortfin Mako

In 2018, NOAA Fisheries increased the recreational minimum size limit for shortfin mako shark caught in federal waters (3 - 200 miles offshore) to 83 inches (fork length). This emergency management measure (link leaves DEC website) was put into effect in response to an international stock assessment which found that the shortfin mako stock is overfished, and overfishing is occurring.

Shortfin Mako Shark
Shortfin mako shark

Shark Fisheries Management

NOAA Fisheries finalized a fishery management plan and began managing the U.S. shark fishery in federal waters in 1993. For more information about the federal management of Atlantic Sharks, please visit NOAA Fisheries Atlantic Highly Migratory Species webpage (link leaves DEC website).

Coast wide management of sharks in state waters is regulated by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission's (ASMFC) Coastal Shark Management Board. ASMFC Approved the Interstate Fishery Management Plan for Atlantic Coastal Sharks in 2008. For more information about coast wide shark species management in state waters, please visit the ASMFC's Coastal Sharks webpage (link leaves DEC website).

Visit these websites to learn more about ongoing shark research in NY waters (links leave DEC website):

More about Coastal Sharks: