The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) today filed new rules that will require federal shark fisheries in the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico to land sharks with their fins still naturally attached.
Previous federal regulations required only that fins and carcasses be brought to dock in a specific ratio, allowing shark fins to be cut off at sea.
"The new rules are a milestone for U.S. shark conservation," said Elizabeth Griffin, marine wildlife scientist at Oceana. "The fins-attached rule in the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico sets a good precedent for shark fisheries in the rest of the world."
The new fins-attached landing policy, part of Amendment 2 to the Highly Migratory Species (HMS) Fisheries Management Plan, will aid conservation by facilitating species identification and data collection and by ensuring that fishermen are not engaged in shark finning at sea. It also includes an 85 percent reduction in fishing for sandbar sharks.
Although the benefits of the new rules are significant, the rules do not go far enough in protecting other large coastal shark species, including porbeagle and great hammerhead sharks, which are still being targeted by fishermen despite scientific evidence that their populations are in trouble. In fact, the status of 10 of the 11 large coastal sharks allowed for catch is now considered unknown, even though previous NMFS assessments stated that this entire group of sharks was overfished. The new rules also fail to require hard limits on bycatch for struggling shark species such as the dusky.
"Continued uncontrolled bycatch of dusky sharks, a species that NMFS estimates will take 400 years to recover, is simply unacceptable," said Griffin.
Earlier this year, Congress also took steps to improve shark management and conservation with the introduction of the Shark Conservation Act of 2008 by Congresswoman Bordallo of Guam. Last week, the bill passed out of the Natural Resources Committee with an amendment offered by Congressman Faleomavaega of American Samoa, requiring that sharks be landed with their fins naturally attached.
Because of their role as apex predators, removal of large sharks from the ocean ecosystem can cause drastic and irreversible damage to our oceans. Sharks are in peril around the world from overfishing, driven in large part by the lucrative trade in shark fins.
Sharks have received media attention recently because of shark attacks in the U.S. and abroad. While shark attacks are very rare, these incidents receive a great deal of exposure due to the widespread but incorrect perception that sharks deliberately prey upon humans. In fact, sharks are threatened more by humans than humans are by sharks.
"Sharks are absolutely the most majestic, beautiful and ever so powerful creatures on this earth," said Amanda Beard, 7-time Olympic medalist swimmer who is working to help Oceana spread the word about the threats currently facing sharks. "Sadly, human activities are pushing many shark species towards extinction."
For statistics on shark attacks, a top 10 list of myths abouts sharks, tips for avoiding shark bites and to learn more about Oceana's campaign to protect sharks, please visit www.oceana.org/sharks.
To watch Amanda Beard's PSA on the deaths of more than 100 millions sharks by the fishing industry each year, go to http://www.oceana.org/sharks/shark-video/.