Sharks In Perspective


Sharks In Perspective: From Fear To Fascination

June 12-14, 2002
Tampa, Florida
Shark Fisheries Management
Shark fishery management is complex and controversial
In the U.S. Atlantic waters, currently there are 39 managed species separated into three groups: large coastal sharks, small coastal sharks, and pelagic sharks. The species involved differ greatly in their biology, reproduction, feeding, age at maturity, etc. Species-specific management requires a better understanding of life history features such as differences in growth and reproduction rates. It should be noted that there are many life history differences among sharks and there are more than 350 species. Getting good life history data is often expensive, time-consuming, and has been a low priority historically. Sampling is expensive, and funding is rarely available. Because management plans are developed based on limited biological information and management, by definition, results in modification of existing fishing practices, fishery management of East Coast sharks has been contentious. There is a need to have better communication among scientists, managers, commercial and recreation fishers, the conservation community, and the public. Fishers need to be cooperative and open with data, including compliance with log book regulations, observer programs and fishery surveys. Education is necessary to change the perception of sharks as both a valuable food fish and to help eliminate useless discarding of carcasses.

Data from commercial fisheries and recreational fisheries, including bycatch, is limited, making management difficult
A result is that our knowledge is incomplete and we have to extrapolate our results into fishery management. This poor data base is the result of the how sharks were considered in the past. They often were regarded to be of low commercial value and were considered a "nuisance fish." As a result, historically there has been little funding for basic research. There is a need to have better collection of data for sustainable fisheries. Better information and educational materials on species identification is needed in order to improve our estimation of landings and catches.

The methodology for shark stock assessments began in 1991 with limited data. New assessments will include life history data in population models. All models are limited by the quantity and quality of data, due to the low priority of shark species. Recreational and commercial shark landings are factored into the models, but are limited by bycatch landings and data on the highly migratory species. This uncertainty is included in the models. Management also is complex and complicated by the fact that the U.S is faced with the management of several species that must be divided into groupings that do not necessarily reflect the biological characteristics of the species. The assessments of some sharks are better than others due to management needs.

Shark fishery observers are an important management tool
Having them aboard working commercial fishery vessels provides scientifically accurate estimates of catch, bycatch, and disposition of the catch. Observers provide "ground truthing" of the fishery and also can obtain basic life history information about catch composition, sex ratios, size at maturity, food habits, age, and reproduction. Observer programs, like other scientific research, require funding and must be in place on a continuous, long-term basis to provide the data time series needed for fishery assessments.

There needs to be consistency in management regulations across international, national and state laws
Sharks are highly migratory species that do not honor political boundaries. Management must address the populations throughout their ranges to be effective.

Federal management follows federal rules; the Magnuson-Stevens Act regulates federal waters, those waters seaward of state waters. A federal commercial permit also mandates that federal permit holders followed federal regulations in all waters, including state waters.

Non-federal commercial permit-holders are required to follow state regulations in state waters. State waters are those from land out to 3 miles from shore. States may or may not have protection rules, and state rules vary. The shark fisheries north of New York are relatively small. There are considerably more shark fishers from New Jersey south to Florida and Gulf of Mexico. West Coast shark fisheries are more limited than those on the East Coast. States need to insure that regulations are compatible with federal regulations in order to not undermine policies set by the federal government. Some states have banned shark finning while others have limits for commercial and/or recreational fishers.

Currently, there are no international shark management plans. The U.S was at the forefront of developing an international plan of action for sharks for all countries with directed shark fisheries or fisheries that catch large numbers of sharks as bycatch. Some international organizations, such as ICAT, collect shark by-catch data as part of fishing operations for other species, such as tuna and swordfish.

U.S. East Coast Federal Fishery Management Timeline
  • 1993. An Atlantic Fishery Management Plan (FMP) was created. It was determined that several shark stocks were being overfished, a result of biological characteristics that differ from other fishes.
  • 1994. A large coastal shark (LCS) assessment found that LCS were not rebuilding as thought.
  • 1997. Quotas for commercial fishers were reduced by 50%, bag limits for recreational fishers were reduced by 50%.
  • 1998. A new LCS stock assessment resulted in new rebuilding plan.
  • 1999. A new FMP was implemented with new bag limits, minimum size limits, commercial quotas, and a ban on 19 species. Commercial and recreational fishers independently sue over new FMP.
  • 2001. Conservation groups sue over lack of implementation of new FMP.
  • 2002. New LCS assessment takes place; small coastal assessment expected.
Public support is essential for shark research and management efforts.
The U.S. has a relatively unique system. It provides an open regulatory process under the Sustainable Fisheries Act. The public has ample opportunity to comment on regulations and management. Members of the public should take advantage of these opportunities to comment. In the past, sharks often were seen as low value pests or nuisance species to fishers. As such, they were not given management priority and their biology was not sufficiently considered in early management attempts. Those biological characteristics are sufficiently critical that management errors can affect shark populations for a long time. Shark research and management programs are urgently needed, but need public support for their development and implementation.

  • 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