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South American Marine Species Listing Proposed

WASHINGTON (CN) - The National Marine Fisheries Service has proposed six overfished South American shark-family species for Endangered Species Act (ESA) listing in response to a WildEarth Guardians petition. The daggernose shark, Brazilian guitarfish, striped smoothhound shark and Argentine angel shark are proposed for "endangered" listing status, and the narrownose smoothhound shark and spiny angel shark are proposed for "threatened" listing status, according to today's action.

The six proposed species are found in coastal waters off South American countries, most off Brazil and Argentina.

In 2013, the WildEarth Guardians petitioned the agency to list 81 marine species. The NMFS chose to make separate responses to the petition based on taxonomic groupings for the 27 species that the agency determined may merit listing status. Three foreign angel sharks from the petition were proposed for listing earlier this year.

"We're thrilled that these six rare sharks, skates and rays are closer to getting the powerful protections of the Endangered Species Act," Taylor Jones, endangered species advocate for WildEarth Guardians, said. "Unsustainable fishing around the world is devastating multitudes of ocean species, and we urgently need to stop plundering the seas."

The agency considered seven species under this action, but one, the graytail skate, does not warrant listing at this time, according to the action. All of the species considered for this listing action are elasmobranchs, defined as fish that have cartilaginous tissues instead of bones.

"An estimated 50 to 80 percent of all life on earth is found in the oceans. More than half of marine species may be at risk of extinction by 2100 without significant conservation efforts. Despite this grave situation, the U.S. largely fails to protect marine species under the ESA. Of the more than 2,200 species protected under the Act, only 5 percent are marine species," Jones said.

On July 19, 2010, President Obama issued Executive Order 13547, mandating responsible stewardship of our oceans, coasts and Great Lakes, in which the President highlighted the fact that our marine environments are extremely vulnerable and how much the nation relies on healthy ocean ecosystems for environmental sustainability, national prosperity, adaptation to climate change, individual health and national security.

The WildEarth Guardians' multi-species petition sought to "compel the service to live up to this mandate," Jones said.

The daggernose shark has the smallest range of any elasmobranch species and it lives in the western Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea. It has small eyes, and it is believed that the shark uses it elongated snout, or rostrum, more than its eyesight in hunting prey in turbid coastal waters. It is overfished, and it frequently appears as bycatch in mackerel and weakfish gillnet fisheries. This level of exploitation plus the species' low reproductive rate has resulted in an estimated 90 percent decline in its population, the service said.

The Brazilian guitarfish is in the ray family, closely related to sharks. It is also overfished and subject to gillnet bycatch. Based on fishing fleet data, the guitarfish population is thought to have collapsed after 1986, with the "abundance of the species after 1993 estimated to be around 16 percent of its 1986 level," according to the action.

The striped smoothhound shark is often found as bycatch in the drum, flounder and mullet fisheries. The coastal gillnet and seine fisheries catch the females and juveniles that are found in shallower water more often than the male fish, due to this species' "ontogenetic" or life-stage based depth distributions. It is estimated that this has caused a 95 percent decline in neonate production for this species.

The fishing pressure on narrownose smoothhound sharks is believed to have caused an 85 percent decline in abundance from 1985 to 1994, and the Argentine and spiny angel sharks have also experienced serious declines, the agency said.

No critical habitat was proposed because none of the fish are found within U.S. waters, and the agency has not identified unoccupied areas within that jurisdiction that are essential to the conservation of the species.

Comments are due by Feb. 5, and public hearing requests must be made by Jan. 21.

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