White Sharks – What Oceana Does
Oceana’s efforts to address white shark bycatch helped initiate a recently formed bycatch working group created by the Marine Resource Committee of the California Fish and Game Commission. This effort is the direct result of a state Endangered Species Act petition Oceana submitted in 2012 with the Center for Biological Diversity, and Shark Stewards to afford the U.S. West Coast population of great white sharks with additional protections.
The set gillnet fishery, which mainly targets California halibut off southern California, overlaps with a large white shark nursery area. White shark pups unintentionally end up as bycatch in these fishing nets. The intent of listing the West Coast population of great white sharks under the Endangered Species Act was to obtain more accurate information on the bycatch of great white sharks in California fisheries; enact precautionary management measures to minimize the bycatch of great white sharks; and garner additional scientific research to better understand great white sharks and their threats.
In February 2013, the Fish and Game Commission unanimously voted to advance white sharks to candidacy, which meant for one year these apex predators received the exact same legal protections afforded to other listed endangered species. During this year, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife conducted a scientific analysis of the population in order to provide a recommendation for action to the Commission. The Department of Fish and Wildlife made a no listing recommendation to the California Fish and Game Commission in April of 2014. While the Commission voted not to list the West Coast population of white sharks as threatened or endangered at their June 2014 meeting, they did explicitly acknowledge that bycatch of white sharks in the set gillnet fishery operating off southern California is the main threat to these iconic sharks and is an issue of concern. Because the Commission has authority over the set gillnet fishery off California, they determined they would prefer to address bycatch concerns through fishery management measures rather than through the California Endangered Species Act. In response, the Commission created the bycatch working group.
Oceana and its partners also submitted a federal ESA petition in 2012 with the Center for Biological Diversity, Shark Stewards, and Wild Earth Guardians. As a result of the strong scientific merits for protection we provided in the federal petition, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) announced a positive 90-day finding in September 2012 which means NMFS recognized the new science documenting the perils facing this unique population of great white sharks.
Alarmingly the agency’s final decision in June 2013, based upon a Biological Review Team (BRT) report, was that this population of great white sharks did not warrant listing under the federal Endangered Species Act. In December 2013, Oceana and the Center for Biological Diversity submitted a critical analysis to the National Marine Fisheries Service and the State of California identifying a series of critical flaws presented in the BRT report. While Oceana is disappointed with the state and federal decisions not to list white sharks as an endangered species, we continue to believe the bycatch of white shark pups in gillnet fisheries off California and Mexico is a critical concern for such an important species that is currently at such low numbers. We will continue to fight for additional research on their population and regulatory protections to end the killing of white sharks in fisheries.
Whether you fear them, or are amazed by them, the oceans need sharks. We are already witnessing changes in our oceans from the removal of large shark populations worldwide which has resulted in cascading effects throughout ocean ecosystems, including adverse effects on commercial fisheries. In the California Current Ecosystem, great white sharks are among the few natural predators of seals and sea lions, and play a critical role in keeping the ocean food web in balance.