Nfld. & Labrador

Out to catch some cod, Torbay man hooks 2m shark instead

Jim Mansfield of Torbay got a lot more fish than he bargained for while out on the waters of Trinity Bay this past weekend.

'It was snapping at the boat, it was chomping on the water,' says Jim Mansfield

That's no cod: the porbeagle shark hooked by Jim Mansfield in Trinity Bay. (Submitted by Jim Mansfield)

Jim Mansfield and his fishing buddies got a lot more than they bargained for while out fishing for cod off Newfoundland's Trinity Bay this past weekend, when Mansfield felt a hard tug on his line.

"I thought I hit the bottom, at first — but I wasn't long realizing that, no b'y, it just wasn't the bottom," Mansfield told CBC Radio's St John's Morning Show about a fishing expedition off New Melbourne. 

It wasn't just a unusually big cod either, as Mansfield realized while he struggled to bring the catch close enough to the surface to see what it was.

"It came up, all white first, actually. And then he rolled over and came to the surface and made a beeline for the side of the boat, and I said yep, that's a shark," said Mansfield, who estimated it was a bit more than two metres long.

"It was just doing head thrashes, and it was snapping at the boat, it was chomping on the water. It was not a happy camper."

Mansfield and his friend, grappling with their unexpected catch. (Submitted by Jim Mansfield)

Mansfield wasn't a happy camper either: the shark had his favourite hook locked into its jaw, one his father had made for him before passing away about 15 years ago.

"That's the one I've been using ever since, sort of sentimental. First thing I said to my buddy is, 'This is a shark, I'm not losing that jigger.' So I said we gotta do what we gotta do."

Saving the sentimental hook

There was no talk of trying to bring the shark aboard to try and save Mansfield's prized hook. 

"That would've destroyed the boat if that had got aboard," he said.

"It was that big, and it was that crazy, it was that wild."

The prized jigger was hooked into the corner of the shark's mouth... right next to all those teeth. (Submitted by Jim Mansfield)

Fortunately for the fishermen, the hook was just tucked into the corner of the shark's mouth.

"We got very lucky. I don't know what we would've done if it had been in his throat. I would've cried, I'm sure," said Mansfield, adding his friend pulled out a small hand gaff to try to unlatch it, rather than get any of their vulnerable hands near all those teeth.

"I kept the line pretty tight, and he got the hand gaff just in behind the hook, and sort of took some of the pressure off the line. And he gave it a quick tug and probably after about three tries, the hook popped out and the shark went on."

A curious catch

Mansfield's porbeagle shark is not an uncommon one to be spotted swimming around the waters of Newfoundland and Labrador while water temperatures remain cool in the early summer, according to the Department of Fisheries and Oceans.

They're also apparently not picky eaters.

"Porbeagles are opportunistic, so anything at all floating around in the water, or something coming down through the water column, say fish guts or something like that — they'll eat it," said Carolyn Miri, a marine biologist with DFO.

"Believe me, a cod on a jigger is certainly an easy meal for it."

Porbeagles are often mistaken for their much larger cousin, the great white, but Miri said there are a few key differences: porbeagles have a distinctive white or pale patch below their first dorsal fin, as well as much bigger, blacker eyes.

Porbeagles also have a personality that lend themselves to close encounters.

"It's naturally a curious species. They'll use their snouts to poke the sides of boats to see what the object is kind of thing," said Miri, who said people should still try to keep their distance from these natural investigators.

"Like with any large wild animal, people need to be careful, they need to respect the fact that it is a wild animal."

Hook a shark? Some helpful hints

Miri recommended that if you do hook a shark, there's a few steps to take to keep the shark and yourself safe.

"At all costs, never try to bring the shark on board a boat. Never try to immobilize it in the water beside the boat either," she said.

Miri said having a pair of bolt cutters and gloves aboard is a good idea, to try to either snap off the hook like Mansfield did, or if that's not possible, cut the leader line and let it swim away.

One thing to try and get is a few photographs, to help amend DFO's scanty data on shark populations that visit the province. 

DFO asks for people to send in shark pictures like Mansfield's, to add to the body of data about sharks in N.L. (Submitted by Jim Mansfield)

"That's where I need to basically plead for the public's help, in helping us get information by reporting sharks that they see or even that they catch by accident, or sharks they may even see washed up on the beach," she said, adding people can email descriptions, photos and videos

For his part, Mansfield didn't let his shark swim away without a few mementos.

"I said, I gotta get a picture of this, there's no one going to believe this," he said.

And the rest of Mansfield's day out on the water proved successful: after hooking and releasing the shark, he managed to catch a few cod, too.

With files from the Corner Brook Morning Show