When you work on the water long enough, you encounter some unique situations. Whether it’s getting stranded during field work, surviving massive seasickness, having your equipment attacked by hostile sea life, or just seeing something unusual, these anecdotes are an important part of what makes marine science fun (sometimes moreso in hindsight). That’s why I’m creating a new category for posts here called “Fish Tales,” where we can share these stories. To start with, here is a literal fishing story.
While I was down in Morehead City for some field work (post on that coming soon), I got the chance to do a little fishing with fellow Southern Fried writers Andrew and Amy and check on potential sites for shark sampling this summer. I’d wanted to test out a new fishing rod set up for sharks and large fish, and had rigged up a wire leader with a size 12/0 circle hook. While casting, it became very clear that I hadn’t properly attached the leader to the swivel when I pulled back an empty swivel where the leader had been. Frustrating, but I’m practically required to lose gear every time I fish, so I rigged up a second wire leader with a J-hook that was on hand.
Circle hooks are used by recreational and commercial hook-and-line fisheries (and many longliners) to reduce hooking mortality in large fishes, sharks, and bycatch animals like sea turtles. The idea is that the hook more or less works by itself without being set like a J-hook. The shape of the hook prevents swallowing and encourages hooking in the corner of the mouth, where it’s less likely to do serious damage.
Continue reading Circle Hooks Save Fish
Photo Credit: Jessica King, Marine Photobank
I’ve written in the past about why shark fin bans might not be the best tool for the conservation and management of sharks. Though specific details vary, these so-called “blanket bans” typically make it illegal for anyone to buy, sell, or possess shark fins regardless of the source *. Additionally, to date most of these fin bans have taken place in a few U.S. states and Canadian towns. If the goal of these state-level fin bans is to reduce the supply of fins to the global market, proponents should consider that according to TRAFFIC, more than 95% of the supply of shark products comes from countries outside of the U.S. and Canada. Even if every U.S. state passed a fin ban, it would have a negligible direct impact on global supply. Additionally, the United States has some of the most sustainably managed shark fisheries in the world (hammerhead sharks and a few others are an exception). We want other countries to emulate out management practices, not to remove our management practices from the global marketplace.
If the goal of these local fin bans is to reduce global demand, proponents should consider that the overwhelming majority of the demand for shark fin soup is in China and Southeast Asia, where passing such bans will pose a significant challenge. Some proponents of fin bans say (after the negligible impact on supply and demand is pointed out) that fin bans help with ”raising awareness of the problem of overfishing of sharks”. While these fin bans do result in (relatively) positive media coverage for shark conservation, “raising awareness” is not the publicly stated goal of these bans. If your goal is to educate people about a problem, educate people about the problem.
Instead of inflexible and ineffective fin bans that penalize fishermen who have adopted best practices * without impacting the global market, I’ve advocated for a science-based approach to sustainable shark management following the 10 basic principles in line with what has been laid out in the United Nations Fisheries and Aquaculture Organization’s International Plan of Action for Sharks and IUCN Shark Specialist Group guidance. These principles include banning finning of sharks by requiring that carcasses be landed whole (recall that finning is a specific fishing practice not synonymous with the fin trade), using science-based quotas to manage the fisheries of sharks whose populations can support a fishery, and restricting the harvest of species whose populations cannot.
Recently, the United States National Marine Fisheries Service (which, once again, manages some of the most sustainable shark fisheries on Earth) has started to officially speak out against state level fin bans.
Continue reading U.S. government: shark fin bans “significantly undermine conservation and management of Federal shark fisheries”
A great hammerhead shark swims by a Project AWARE “Extinction is NOT an Option” sign, Bimini, Bahamas. Photo credit: Neil Hammerschlag
The Endangered Species Act is one of the strongest conservation laws on the planet, and to date, no shark has ever been given ESA protections. In recent weeks, however, the National Marine Fisheries Service has responded to a series of NGO petitions requesting ESA protections for two species of hammerhead sharks. NMFS proposes to list 2 “distinct” population segments” (DPS) of scalloped hammerhead sharks as endangered and 2 as threatened, with 2 DPS’s listed as “not warranted”. The response to the great hammerhead petition is not as developed (the petition itself is more recent), but notes that “the petitioned action may be warranted”.
I strongly believe that both of these species of hammerhead sharks need and qualify for Endangered Species Act protections. If you agree, I encourage you to submit an official public comment in support of listing both under the ESA following the instructions below. Failure to follow all instructions to the letter will result in your comment not being considered. Commenting on this blog post does not count as submitting a public comment, and neither does commenting on a Facebook post about this blog post. Online petitions will not be considered. This process is open to the public, but requires that we follow basic instructions.
To submit a public comment in support of great hammerhead ESA listings, click on the “comment now” button on this page and fill in the required information. To submit a public comment in support of scalloped hammerhead ESA listings, click on the “comment now” button on this page and fill in all the required information. You can also submit written comments via the mail to “Office of Protected Resources,NMFS, 1315 East-West Highway, Silver Spring, MD 20910 or by fax to 301-713-4060 attn: Maggie Miller. Please note that if you submit a comment by mail or fax, you need to include code NOAA-NMFS-2013-0046 for great hammerheads and code NOAA-NMFS-2011-0261 for scalloped hammerheads.
To help craft your public comment, I’ve written a list of 10 reasons why these sharks qualify for Endangered Species Act protections. Please do not just quote this post word-for-word, if you do then your comment will be considered a “form letter” and not an individual comment.
Continue reading 10 Reasons why Great and Scalloped Hammerhead Sharks Deserve Endangered Species Act Protections
As you may have noticed from the previous post, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) is proposing draft addendum to the Fishery Management Plan (FMP) for coastal sharks to bring it in line with the current Federal regulations. These regulations are based on the Shark Conservation Act of 2010, which required all sharks fished in US waters to be landed with fins still attached… with the exception of a familiar yet under-studied species known as Mustelus canis, the smooth dogfish. These sharks can still be finned in Federal waters as long as the weight of fins does not exceed 12% of the weight of the finless carcasses. This exception was glaring not just because it singled out one species with a relatively limited range compared to other species in the fishery, but also brought out that seemingly absurd 12% fin-body weight ratio. The addendum is open for public comment until March 28th at 5 pm. With any luck, this post will help clarify some of the issues involved.
Continue reading Of Fin-Body Ratios and Smooth Dogfish -UPDATED
As 16th Conference of the Parties of the Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES COP16, pronounced sight-eze) comes to a close, I’d like to reflect on something that made this meeting unlike almost any other wildlife conservation and management meeting in history. Yes, history was made as delegates voted to list commercially exploited shark species for the first time, and history was made when manta rays became the first shark or ray species to be listed under CITES the first time they were proposed, and that’s all fantastic news. However, what I believe made CITES COP16 a game-changer for wildlife conservation and management was the large-scale inclusion of online outreach by both attendees and organizers. For the first time ever, interested members of the public from all over the world could follow along (and to some degree, participate) in real time.
Continue reading Was CITES COP16 a game-changer for online outreach at wildlife management meetings?
Right now, delegates from 178 countries are meeting in Bangkok, Thailand to discuss a variety of conservation proposals. At the 16th CITES Conference of the Parties, among many other worthy topics, delegates will be debating a record-number of shark and ray proposals. These include iconic species like hammerhead sharks (3 species) and manta rays (2 species), as well as oceanic whitetip sharks, porbeagle sharks, and three species of freshwater stingray.
In addition to a record-number of shark and ray proposals, this year’s Conference of the Parties also has a record-number of attendees live-tweeting the meeting.Those of you who follow me on twitter know that I’ve been re-tweeting lots of information about CITES and these shark conservation proposals. In case you want to get the information directly from the source, I’ve prepared a guide to following along with the meeting on twitter.
1) Follow #CITES . Though this hashtag isn’t exclusively focused on sharks (and isn’t exclusively in English), there’s a lot of good information being shared.
2) Follow #Cites4Sharks . Also use this hashtag if you’re sharing any relevant links or information.
3) Follow the 13 accounts I’ve highlighted below (and let me know in the comments if you have suggestions for any accounts I should add to the list):
Continue reading A guide to following shark conservation proposals at CITES on twitter
A new study* has estimated that the total number of sharks killed by fisheries each year is between 63 and 273 million, with a average of approximately 100 million.In an interview, lead author Dr. Boris Worm explains the importance of this estimate:
“This is by far the most comprehensive estimate of shark mortality yet,” he said, ”because we consider all sources of mortality, from direct fishing, finning, and discard mortality. the estimate was derived by crunching numbers from almost 100 publications on the catches and mortality of sharks.”
Of all the numbers this team crunched, the most important thing to consider is whether the exploitation rate is greater than the rebound rate. In other words, is this level of exploitation more than the populations can recover from? Though many estimates and approximations went into calculating these figures, it seems quite clear that sharks are being harvested at an unsustainable rate.
Continue reading Breaking News! “Most Comprehensive Estimate of Mortality”: Between 63 and 273 Million Sharks Killed Each Year
Dr. Chris Lowe is a Professor of Marine Biology at California State University Long Beach, and is Director of the CSULB Shark Lab. He has studied California’s great white sharks for more than 10 years, and has written more than 75 peer-reviewed scientific publications. Dr. Lowe also serves on the Board of Directors for the American Elasmobranch Society, the world’s largest professional organization of shark scientists. The following guest post was also submitted as a public comment to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife.
Comments for consideration on the petition to list white shark as threatened or endangered species:
I am a Professor of Marine Biology and the Director of the CSULB Shark Lab at California State University Long Beach and have been conducting State and Federally permitted white shark research in California since 2002. In addition, as a professional and published shark scientist who has studied a variety of shark species around the world, including white sharks in California, I would like to take this opportunity to express my personal professional opinion in regards to the petition request and the science behind it.
Continue reading Guest post: Why a California great white shark scientist opposes CA Endangered Species Act protections