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Fin Poaching Leads to Protection Proposal

WASHINGTON (CN) - The National Marine Fisheries Service has proposed Endangered Species Act listing for two distinct population segments (DPSs) of scalloped hammerhead sharks as endangered, and two populations as threatened. The agency also has determined that two other DPSs of the sharks do not warrant listing at this time. The agency's action is in response to a 2011 petition jointly filed by the WildEarth Guardians (WEG) and Friends of Animals (FOA) environmental groups, the marine agency noted in a press release.

"The hammerhead's name describes its characteristic elongated, flattened head, which on the scalloped hammerhead has distinctive, curved indentations along the front edge," according to the WEG's press release.

The scalloped hammerheads, (Sphyrna lewini), are found in warm coastal waters in the Atlantic, Pacific and Indian Oceans, and are capable of swimming long distances, but rarely migrate across ocean basins, the FOA noted in its statement.

"Under the proposal, two DPSs of scalloped hammerhead sharks in the eastern Atlantic and eastern Pacific would be listed as endangered, while two DPSs - the central and southwest Atlantic population, and the Indo-West Pacific population - would be listed as threatened," the NMFS said.

The listing proposals "cite threats from overfishing and inadequate management of foreign fisheries, with illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing, also known as IUU fishing, as a significant problem," according to the agency.

"Scalloped hammerhead sharks are popular in the international fin trade due to their large fins with a high fin needle content (a gelatinous product used to make shark fin soup), and subsequently fetch a high commercial price," the action stated. "Given the fact that the meat is essentially unpalatable, due to its high urea concentration, it is thought that current volume of S. lewini traded meat and products is insignificant when compared to the volume of S. lewini fins in international trade."

"The practice of 'finning' is of particular concern for scalloped hammerheads and other sharks. In this practice, crews land the sharks and remove only their fins, disposing of the remainder of the animals overboard and leaving disabled sharks to drown or die of starvation. By taking the fins only, crews catch and kill many more sharks than their boats could otherwise hold-and many more than can be officially recorded as losses to the bio-community," the WEG said.

The NMFS anticipates that there will be few effects from these proposed listings to fishers under U.S. jurisdiction, or to the activities of other federal agencies. "The proposed endangered listings prohibit imports, exports and commercial activities dealing in the species. Scalloped hammerhead sharks are not a significant component of catch or bycatch by U.S. commercial and recreational fishers. Also, in the U.S. Western Pacific territories, scalloped hammerhead sharks are not a component of subsistence fisheries and are rarely caught or seen," the agency said. "The species will not be listed in the majority of U.S. waters due to steps fisheries managers and fishermen have already taken to help protect these species. For example, in the U.S. Atlantic, the species is managed under a fishery management plan, with established biological catch levels to control harvest." The agency wants comments on the proposed rule by June 4, 2013, and public hearing requests by May 20, 2013.

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