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Feds move to protect deadliest shark

Fishermen will need to update their equipment to reduce the number of sharks caught in commercial operations.

(CN) — Wire leaders will no longer be legal in the waters around the Hawaiian archipelago after the National Marine Fisheries Service prohibited its use to cut down on the accidental deaths of the threatened whitetip shark. 

“In an effort to improve survival of oceanic whitetip sharks unintentionally caught in the FEP longline fisheries, this rule prohibits the use of wire leaders, specifically steel wire line within 1 meter of the hook, in the Hawaii deepset fishery,” the National Marine Fisheries Service said in publishing a final rule on Wednesday. 

Wire leaders are used by commercial and sport fishermen to ensure that predatory fish are not able to bite through the line when ensnared. The rule is relevant throughout the longline fisheries in the waters off of the Hawaiian Islands. 

Longlining is a technique where one single line is anchored and smaller lines with hooks are located at intervals down the main line. It is a popular method for commercial fishing as it allows one to catch more fish than conventional sport fishing methods. 

“Wire leaders are difficult for sharks to bite off and free themselves and difficult for fishermen to cut from deck height as compared to alternative monofilament leaders,” the agency said in the final rule. 

The rule further stipulates that fishing gear must be removed from sharks before they are put back if they are accidentally caught during fishing operations. 

“The rule is intended to reduce the amount of fishing gear (aka trailing gear) attached to released oceanic whitetip sharks,” the service said. “Long trailing gear reduces survivorship of oceanic whitetip sharks unintentionally caught in the fisheries.”

Whitetip sharks are large pelagic sharks that prefer to roam deep waters but keep close to the surface where they hunt fish. 

Getting caught in commercial fishing gear is the largest cause of their deaths, but their fins are highly valued in the international trade for various shark parts. The sharks do not reproduce rapidly so these threats can significantly impinge upon their population numbers. 

The sharks are found throughout tropical and subtropical regions. 

While a slow mover, once the shark sets its sight on prey it is relentless and aggressive. Sailors say it is the last species of shark you want to see if you survive a shipwreck

Jacque Costeau, the famed oceanographer, said the whitetip shark is “"the most dangerous of all sharks".

While the great white shark looms larger in the imagination, the whitetip has likely killed more humans due to its more aggressive nature and its propensity to attack people after shipwrecks and downed aircrafts. 

One of the most famous incidents occurred after the USS Indianapolis was torpedoed during World War II. After the ship sank, hundreds of sailors floated on the surface of the Central Pacific Ocean for five days before they were rescued by aircraft. Many sailors died of exposure, but accounts of the ordeal also indicate hundreds of sailors were killed by sharks before rescue. 

The species was once thought to be one of the most widespread and abundant in the oceans, but bycatch, fin soup and other depredations caused the fisheries service to list the animal as threatened in 2018. 

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Categories / Environment, Government

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