Conservationists Call on US to Help Dusky Shark

(Photo courtesy of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration)

WASHINGTON (CN) – Complaining that regulators are not doing enough to help restore the overfished dusky shark population, Oceana brought a federal complaint to compel further action.

Oceana says 11 years have passed since the National Marine Fisheries Service identified the dusky shark as overfished, but that the agency has failed to take the steps necessary to protect the species.

“While fishermen have been prohibited from directly hunting and retaining dusky sharks since 2000, large numbers of these sharks are still caught incidentally as bycatch by commercial and recreational fisheries, and many of these sharks die,” the complaint states.

Filed on May 4 in Washington, the complaint comes a full month after the Fisheries Service finalized the steps it wants to take to end overfishing and rebuild the dusky shark population by 2107.

The agency says its plan, Amendment 5 to the HMS Fishery Management Plan, will achieve a 35 percent reduction in dusky shark mortality relative to 2015 levels. But Oceana’s complaint calls the service’s math into question.

“The 35 percent figure that the Fisheries Service relies on is likely an underestimate of the reduction in bycatch mortality needed to rebuild the dusky shark population because the stock assessment found that reducing mortality by 35 percent only has a 50 percent chance of rebuilding the population by 2107,” the complaint states.

In addition to claiming that Amendment 5b’s measures are destined for failure, Oceana accuses the Fisheries Service of having failed to “examine the full extent of bycatch mortality that currently exists.”

The dusky shark is a large, slow-to-reproduce apex predator that migrates off the East Coast of the United States.

Alleging violations of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act and the National Environmental Policy Act, Oceana wants an updated report within six months.

“The rule released last month continues the gross mismanagement of shark species in U.S. waters. It provides no accountability or consequences for fishermen who catch prohibited shark species as bycatch as well as no incentive or mechanism to stop them,” Oceana campaign director Lora Snyder said in a statement. “If the federal government just implements three simple solutions, we could drastically reduce the overfishing of prohibited sharks in U.S. waters. Oceana urges the Trump administration to come out with new measures to count, cap and control the number of sharks being caught, so fishing activity can stop once a scientifically based cap is reached.”

The group is represented by Earthjustice attorney Andrea Treece.

“It’s a bit like trying to reduce car accidents by posting a speed limit but not monitoring traffic and stopping cars for speeding,” Treece said in a statement about the agency’s efforts. “Ultimately, you need to actually enforce the limit to get drivers to slow down.”

Representatives for the government regulators have not returned a request for comment. 

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