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Shark Regulation Updates

While Shark Week was raging along, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC) approved a new round of shark fishery regulations for public comment.  Quite a bit has happened since the last time we covered U.S. shark fisheries here, so it’s time for a bit of a recap before discussing how the latest developments affect sharks and the people who fish for them.

The latest proposed regulations represent a combination of making state-level shark management consistent with the Federal Shark Conservation Act of 2010 and Amendment 5a to the Consolidated Atlantic Highly Migratory Species management plan (which covers sharks, tunas, and billfish in U.S. Atlantic waters).  The Shark Conservation Act essentially banned finning at sea in U.S. shark fisheries, with the noteworthy and controversial exception (and oddly high fin:body ratio) of smooth dogfish.  Amendment 5a, as proposed back in November, is an attempt to start managing sharks on a species-by-species basis rather than the previous “fishery complex” scheme that lumped several species with very different life histories (and ability to tolerate fishing pressure) together.  The proposed rules affected both recreational and commercial fisheries, and officially separate out large hammerheads from the Large Coastal Shark complex (something already done for sandbar sharks) and blacknose sharks from the Small Coastal Shark complex.  A proposed recreational size limit for all sharks designed to protect juvenile dusky sharks was later withdrawn for reconsideration after overwhelming negative feedback during the public comment period.

That brings us up to speed.  On the smooth dogfish (now officially called smoothhound sharks by managers to avoid confusion with spiny dogfish) side, ASMFC approved the higher fin:body weight ratio and has begun setting up the infrastructure for a targeted fishery, including allocating state shares of the quota.  The big winners are New Jersey, Virginia, and North Carolina with about 19, 35, and 28 % of the quota, respectively.  These states currently land the most smoothhound sharks.  While quota allocation is being laid out, managers are still working out exactly what that quota will be.  Disconcertingly, smoothhound sharks are currently being fished with no quota whatsoever.

In happier and more recent news, the latest rules proposed by the ASMFC are largely those that have already been approved on a Federal level for Amendment 5a.  Namely, blacknose sharks and large hammerheads (great, scalloped, and smooth) are being given their own separate quotas and managed outside of the Large and Small Shark complexes.  In addition, a recreational limit of 78 inches (6.5 feet) is being proposed for all large hammerheads.

To give you an idea of what the hammerhead size limit looks like, this shark would likely be right at it. Image from alabamasharkfishing.com.

The new size limit and separate quotas should help limit hammerheads’ exposure to fishing pressure.  In addition, a higher size limit for hammerheads is much easier to enforce than a blanket limit of nearly 8 feet for all sharks, and hammerheads are much easier to tell apart from more hardy sharks like blacktips and bulls.

The state-level rules for coastal sharks are open for public comment and will be until 5 pm on September 25th.  The proposed rules for hammerheads and blacknose sharks seems downright decent to me, so I really don’t have any commentary there except for support.  You may feel differently, or maybe you want to let ASMFC know you think these rules are a-okay.  Instructions for submitting public comments can be found at the bottom of this page, and remember to keep your comments civil, well-informed, and relevant.

Regarding smoothhound sharks, as of now the next step is setting the quota, so be ready to advocate for something science-based when the time comes.