A man has been arrested after sharks with brands burned into their skin were found by Lowcountry fishermen, according to the South Carolina Department of Natural Resources, or SCDNR.
An SCDNR spokesman said an Awendaw man was charged in the branding of sharks, WTMA reported.
Sharks were found in May bearing marks similar to brands scorched on cattle and horses, according to a tweet from Tracking Sharks.
SCDNR launched an investigation after pictures of sharks with the brand circulated on social media, WCSC reported. The brand seared into the shark’s skin was a circle with a shape inside that could be a cursive letter, a fish hook or even a shark.
In addition to Charleston-area anglers, SCDNR officials began catching sharks bearing the brand “near Dewees Island and Isle of Palms,” according to WCIV.
On Friday, SCDNR reported a 56-year-old man, who has not been publicly identified, was charged with illegal tagging of a saltwater fish, per postandcourier.com.
According to South Carolina law, “no person may tag or mark and release saltwater fish or promote such activity unless authorized by the department,” Justia US Law reported.
The charge is a misdemeanor and carries a maximum punishment of 30 days in jail and a $200 fine, according to the website.
The man might not have known “his actions were illegal,” according to SCDNR, which said he has been cooperative with investigators, per WCIV.
Although the sharks were returned to the ocean, a marine biologist said the branding could be harmful and potentially deadly to the animals.
“In addition to causing pain to the animal, it damages the skin and secondary infection could weaken or cause the death of the animal,” said SCDNR marine biologist Bryan Frazier, according to WCSC. “The species tagged, sandbar sharks, are currently overfished. ... Recreational harvest of this species is prohibited.”
These brandings are different from the tags scientists apply to the sharks for tracking purposes.
The brand was “put on with a propane torch or ‘freeze branded’ with dry ice,” postandcourier.com reported.
A mutilated shark washed up on a beach just a few miles north of Hilton Head Island, McClatchy reported. Frazier said the shark appeared to be a juvenile tiger shark that had its stomach removed and its jaws and teeth were also damaged.