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Sharks In Perspective

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Sharks In Perspective: From Fear To Fascination

June 12-14, 2002
Tampa, Florida
Shark Conservation
The conservation community is increasingly concerned about shark and ray populations
The biology of sharks is different from other fishes - it is more like that of humans. Most species take many years to mature. It takes 8-20 years for most sharks to reach sexual maturity and reproduce. Some species, like the sand tiger, take up to 20 years to mature, then only reproduce every 3 years, producing only 2-3 pups per "litter." The poor image of sharks and rays in the past (e.g., "trash fish," "man-eaters") among the public and decision-makers have resulted in little funding for research and fishery management. For some species, such as the whale shark, the biology is virtually unknown at this time.

The conservation community feels a need to take a precautionary approach in fishery management issues. Sharks, because of their limiting biological characteristics, low management priorities, and resulting population depletions, represent the ultimate case for using such caution. If in doubt, one should err on the side of conservation. While information often is poor or lacking on shark biology, we do know that sharks and rays generally are exceptionally vulnerable to over-exploitation and slow to recover once depleted. Indeed, many shark and ray populations around the world are in decline.

In the South Atlantic shark fishery, major threats have included over-fishing, bycatch, and habitat degradation
Shark populations collapsed in the late 1980's and early 1990s due largely to overfishing by recreational and commercial fishers. The current population is currently 15-20% of the original populations of the 1980s. The recovery of shark populations is slow.

If management regulations are not adopted, the depletion of sharks and rays will continue and more species will become endangered
Evaluation and assessment of shark populations are often done at workshops. Among the ways to evaluate a species are population assessments, status reviews, data collection and analysis, and public comment. Problems with existing data and management should not be used as an excuse for "no action" on management.

The sawfishes, near relatives of sharks and rays, are endangered in the in the U.S. and throughout the world
These species face the same threats as sharks and steps must be taken to ensure they are not lost to extinction. The sawfishes (two species) are vulnerable to fishing gear due to their long rostrum, and they are also vulnerable to habitat destruction. They are listed as endangered or critically threatened.

The Conservation and the Endangered Species Act (ESA) is the federal law that addresses endangered species. The ESA procedure begins with a candidate listing of species with accompanying documentation about population declines and threats (e.g., overfishing, habitat degradation, pollution) to their populations. From there, a status review of all available information is undertaken by the National Marine Fisheries Service, which determines if a proposal to list the species is warranted. The National Marine Fisheries Service takes public comment on the proposal and then determines whether or not to list the species as threatened or endangered. This is a different process than the prohibited species in fisheries through the Sustainable Fisheries Act. East Coast sharks currently listed as prohibited species (cannot be landed) are the white, dusky, sandtiger, bigeye sandtiger, bignose, night, Caribbean reef, Galapagos, longfin mako, bigeye thresher, whale, basking, Atlantic angel, sixgill, bigeye sixgill, sevengill, Caribbean sharpnose, smalltail, and narrowtooth sharks.

Internationally, there are a number of shark and ray species of special concern to the conservation community. Species of special concern include the sand tiger (vulnerable), basking (vulnerable), dusky (vulnerable), blue (low-risk) sharks, and the sawfishes (critical).

There needs to be better communications among all interest groups
Many commercial and recreational fishers consider themselves strong conservationists. This needs to be recognized by the other groups. In turn, fishers need to work to become more effective leaders for conservation. Shark conservation is an uphill battle. There is a continued need for public education and outreach in this area if sharks and rays are to survive.

Panelists:
  • Enric Cortés, NMFS Southeast Fisheries Science Center, Panama City, FL [Moderator]
  • Merry Camhi, National Audubon Society, Islip, NY
  • Sonja Fordham, The Ocean Conservancy, Washington, DC
  • Jack Musick, Virginia Institute of Marine Sciences, Gloucester Point, VA
  • Rich Novak, Florida Sea Grant, Punta Gorda, FL
  • Eric Sander, Florida Marine Research Institute, Daytona Beach, FL
  • Margo Schulze-Haugen, NMFS Highly Migratory Species Division, Silver Springs, MD
  • Colin Simpfendorfer, Mote Marine Laboratory, Sarasota, FL
  • Frank Snelson, University of Central Florida, Orlando, FL
  • Roy Williams, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Tallahassee, FL