Today, in response to a 2015 Oceana lawsuit, the Trump administration finalized new measures to address the overfishing of dusky sharks in U.S. waters. According to Oceana, although this rule is a first step for dusky conservation, it fails to address the main cause of dusky shark declines, which is bycatch – the capture of non-target fish and ocean wildlife. As many as 75,000 dusky sharks may have been caught as bycatch since they were officially prohibited from being targeted by fishermen in 2000, leaving their populations struggling to recover.
In the final rule, the federal government committed to conducting new dusky shark outreach and awareness training for fishermen, new release and relocation protocols, and requiring the use of circle hooks in bottom longlines and when recreational fishermen are fishing for sharks. Circle hooks are designed to hook in the jaw of a shark instead of the stomach, causing less injury and increasing the likelihood of survival if released.
Oceana campaign director Lora Snyder released the following statement in response to today’s rule:
“While increased outreach to fishermen, as well as the use of circle hooks in areas where dusky sharks swim, may reduce the number of sharks being killed, these steps alone will not solve the issues that have plagued dusky sharks for decades in U.S. fisheries.
The federal government itself estimates that the number of dusky sharks killed in U.S. fisheries needs to decrease by at least 35 percent in order for the species to recover. The rule released today will not achieve this. Further, it fails to even address all the fishing fleets responsible for catching dusky sharks, only focusing on bycatch in fisheries for swordfish and tuna, when most dusky sharks are caught in other fisheries.
What may be most alarming is that this rule also continues to loop in all other prohibited shark species in U.S. waters, including bigeye threashers, long-fin makos, sand tigers and others. This means that there will be no consequences for fishermen who catch these prohibited sharks in their gear as bycatch, as well as no incentive or mechanism to stop them.
The only real solution to ensure prohibited sharks are accounted for in the fisheries that do them the most harm is requiring hard bycatch caps. We must count, cap and control the number of prohibited species being caught, so fishing activity can stop once a scientifically based cap is reached.”
Dusky shark populations off the Atlantic and Gulf coasts have plummeted by 65 percent in the past two decades as a result of overfishing and bycatch. Dusky sharks grow slowly and have low reproductive rates, making them highly vulnerable to overfishing. Despite the federal government acknowledging that dusky sharks were severely depleted nearly 20 years ago, they are still being overfished today in violation of federal law.
For more information about Oceana’s campaign to save dusky sharks, please visit www.oceana.org/Dusky.