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NOAA touts new pungent shark repellent

A nasty-smelling shark repellent developed to reduce shark bycatch — and so effective it tends to leave humans gasping for breath — received 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 researchers are making in coastal communities to develop ways to reduce bycatch, which involves sharks and other unintended species getting caught up in nets intended for shrimp or other seafood commercially harvested on long lines.

Two grants from NOAA have helped Patrick Rice, dean of marine science and technology at the community college, and his research assistant, Brian DeSanti, to experiment with variations on the repellent theme. The ultimate goal is to do away with shark bycatch.

The first batch was made from pieces of dead and rotting shark corpses and it caused such a literal stink on the college’s Key West campus that it was moved to a storage locker at Anchor Towing on Rockland Key.

There DeSanti tended to it. Rice said DeSanti 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," Rice told Keys News.

"The original discovery was that sharks don't like the smell of dead rotting sharks,”he said. “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.”

The shark repellent is packed into time-release capsules.

"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,”Rice said.

“We’ve reduced bycatch by about 35 percent, which could result in saving as many as 8 million sharks per year,”he said. “Our ultimate goal is to eliminate bycatch altogether. We're very optimistic that this shark-repellent bait can be commercialized in the near future."

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