This month we would like to feature one of the shark taggers that we have been working with for a couple years, Rick Reger. Rick is a commercial and charter fisherman in Kona and was one of the earliest to get involved and help form the Hawai‘i Community Tagging Program (HCTP). Rick began fishing for a living at the age of 15 in San Diego, where he worked on a sport fishing boat, gaining valuable ‘sea-time’ and a true fisher’s education. After getting his captain’s license at 23 years old, he moved to Kona and started fishing the seamounts offshore. With over twenty years of experience commercial fishing, he has seen huge changes in the industry. Rick spoke a lot about the inconsistency of the catch, which he says is steadily becoming the norm these days, and how that impacts the guys who aren’t big business fishing but just trying to make a living. He explained how the ocean environment he’s known for so long seems “upside down”, making last year’s season particularly difficult for him. He conveyed that his experience of observing declining catch rates in his own short lifetime, coupled with a curiosity for all things ocean, are what drives his desire to aid in scientific efforts. Recently, Rick represented the Hawaii small-scale fishery and participated in a stakeholder workshop hosted by NOAA Fisheries to discuss potential strategies to facilitate the recovery of Oceanic whitetip sharks. Rick is also part of the Pacific Remote Islands Management Group, where he helps managers understand the impacts of marine protected area closures on resource users.
To date, Rick has tagged three Oceanic whitetip sharks and one Blue shark. He says one of the most interesting and rewarding things about his work with the HCTP is to see the results from the sharks he has tagged. The Blue shark, which he tagged off of Ho‘okena, traveled over 1500 miles in just fifteen days. He was astounded by this and had a lot of respect for this far-ranging, cryptic animal. I loved talking to Rick about how he interacts with sharks has changed over the years, especially since beginning work with our program lead, Dr. Melanie Hutchinson. When Rick was younger, his encounters with sharks were not usually positive, but he states that this resulted, ‘more from a lack of education than anything else’. In the case of the Bigeye thresher shark, which is occasionally captured while fishing ika-shibi, Rick explained that once he understood that he was looking at an animal that could be around 40 years old, with low population numbers and only able to give birth every 3 years, it dramatically affected how he views and handles them. He said the more educated he becomes on various issues, the more he wants to be a better steward of the environment. At a time when the relationship between fishermen and sharks is pivotal, I really admired Rick’s openness on the issues he faces and his willingness to help solve some of the problems he’s seeing.
We would like to thank Rick for the great work he’s done for the Hawaii Community Tagging Program and bid him a hui hou as he transitions to commercial fishing in colder Northern waters.