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Commercial Shark Fishery Observer Program

Final Report Abstracts

1997-1998 Final Report Abstract
Steve Branstetter1 and George Burgess2
1 Gulf and South Atlantic Fisheries Development Foundation, Inc.
2 University of Florida

This program, conducted jointly by the Gulf and South Atlantic Fisheries Development Foundation and the University of Florida since 1994, has placed observers aboard voluntarily participating commercial shark longliners to gather fishery dependent data with the intention of enhancing the reliability of management strategies for this important marine resource. This award supported continued monitoring of that fishery during the second fishing season of 1997 and the first fishing season of 1998 in three important shark fishing areas: North Carolina, Atlantic Florida, and Gulf of Mexico Florida. Three observers documented details on the landings of 4.2% of the large-coastal shark commercial fishery quota during this timeframe. That catch was dominated by the large-coastal sandbar shark (Carcharhinus plumbeus) and the small coastal Atlantic sharpnose shark (Rhizoprionodon terraenovae). Catch rates for the various large coastal species suggest a general increasing trend over time for the dominant species. This conclusion should be tempered with the recognition that fluctuations in fishing effort, vessels monitored, and fishing season may be masking or influencing the trends. Based on the NMFS stock assessments, the two species which appear to be impacted the greatest are the sandbar and dusky shark. Given that substantial numbers of immature individuals of both species are caught and landed and that several stock evaluations have indicated that reducing mortality on these younger size groups will make the greatest contribution to stock recovery, size limits appear to be appropriate for this fishery. Because of the difficulty in identifying carcasses at the dock we have previously recommended a generic size limit on all ridgeback species; that recommendation still stands.

Reprinted from: FINAL REPORT - Saltonstall-Kennedy Award NA77FD0068 - "Continuation of an observer program to characterize and compare the directed commercial shark fishery in the eastern Gulf of Mexico and South Atlantic," June 1998.