WASHINGTON (CN) – Responding to an environmental group’s petition, the National Marine Fisheries Service listed three foreign angelshark species as endangered under the Endangered Species Act, Monday.
No critical habitat was designated in the action for the common angelshark, the sawback angelshark and the smoothback angelshark, because none of the fish are found within United States jurisdiction, and the agency has not identified any unoccupied areas within that jurisdiction that are essential to the conservation of the species.
The 2013 petition filed by the WildEarth Guardians sought listing status for 81 marine species. The NMFS responded by separating the species into taxonomic groups.
The rule addresses three of the 24 species that the agency determined warranted listing. Only a small percentage of the species currently listed under the Endangered Species Act are marine species.
In 2010, President Obama signed an executive order for the protection and restoration of the ocean’s ecosystems. The WildEarth Guardians’ “multi-species marine petition seeks to compel the Fisheries Service to live up to this mandate,” the group said.
These three have declined primarily due to overfishing throughout their historic ranges in the coastal regions of the Mediterranean Sea and the eastern Atlantic Ocean, from the Baltic Sea through the coastline of Africa.
Angelsharks are similar in appearance to rays and skates, but they are true sharks with forward-facing mouths and gill slits that wrap around their heads.
They are ambush predators that spend a lot of time buried in the sand. Consequently, they are especially impacted by deep water and bottom trawling. In some areas, the angelshark populations have been decimated by the use of fishing gear designed especially to catch these fish, and the angelsharks are often caught as by-catch in the gear for other fisheries, such as the trammel nets used by the crawfish fisheries.
Historic recreational fishing has also played a part in the decline in these fish. During the 1960s, fishing tournaments in Ireland resulted in “record” catches, the agency said. Many of the angelsharks caught in these tournaments were larger, mature fish. Angelsharks are long-lived and slow to mature to a reproductive age, so the populations in the areas of these tournaments were significantly impacted.
In determining that the fish warranted the listing status of “endangered,” the agency noted the angelsharks’ current range is smaller and more fragmented than it was, making it difficult for the populations to recover from both the historic declines and the ongoing overfishing. In addition, existing regulations are inadequate to address the challenges the fish face. The agency reviewed conservation efforts, including a tagging program and a captive breeding program, but determined that many of these efforts are dependent on uncertain future funding.
When species are listed under the Endangered Species Act, recognition of the species’ dire situation promotes conservation actions by federal and state agencies, foreign entities, private groups and individuals, the agency said. The endangered listing would also prohibit “take,” or harm, of the species in areas under U.S. jurisdiction, including export and import.
“Sharks of all kinds are a key part of ocean ecosystems and are increasingly threatened by human activities. These angelsharks need the ecological safety net the Endangered Species Act provides, not more fishing nets,” Taylor Jones, WildEarth Guardians’ endangered species advocate, said.
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