Thoughts on the Sustainable Shark Fisheries and Trade Act

A few weeks ago, H.R. 5248, The Sustainable Shark Fisheries and Trade Act, was introduced into Congress. The purpose of this bill is to “encourage a science-based approach to significantly reduce the overfishing and unsustainable trade of sharks, rays and skates around the world and prevent shark finning,” according to a press release from Mote Marine Lab. 

Though the devil is always in the details, and I’ll get into those below, here is a general overview of how this would work. The Sustainable Shark Fisheries and Trade Act would direct NOAA Fisheries to evaluate the fisheries management practices of other shark and ray fishing nations. This is similar in principle to other things NOAA is already doing, and a similar role for NOAA was included in the 2010 Shark Conservation Act (but has yet to be implemented).

Nations that have sustainable fisheries management practices comparable to ours (or certain fisheries associated with those nations, even if other fisheries are less well managed) will get a formal certification of their sustainable management practices, and nothing will change for them. Nations (or fisheries) that are found to not have sustainable fisheries management practices comparable to ours will not be allowed to have those products imported into the US and sold in our markets until their management practices improve. In the meantime, they’ll have access to NOAA’s existing capacity building resources and expertise to improve their own practices.

I support much of what this bill is trying to do, but I have some significant concerns about some of the current phrasing and plan for implementation.

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In South Louisiana, Seafood Means Hope

This blog post and photo slideshow was created during OCEANDOTCOMM, an ocean science communication event, and supported by the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium (LUMCON) The theme of OCEANDOTCOMM was Coastal Optimism. Photos were contributed by our lead photographer, Rafeed Hussain/Ocean Conservancy, with additions from other OCEANDOTCOMM attendees, including Melissa Miller, Samantha Oester, Susan Von Thun, Solomon David, Rebecca Helm, and Alexander Havens.

A sign at the Bait House in Chauvin, Louisiana. Photo by Rafeed Hussain / Ocean Conservancy

In many ways, South Louisiana is seafood- a trip here isn’t complete without eating some gumbo, oysters, or crawfish. Only one state (Alaska) lands more seafood than Louisiana’s 1.2 billion pounds a year (as of 2016). As of 2008, one in 70 jobs in the whole state is tied to fishing or related industries. According to the Louisiana Seafood Marketing and Promotion Board, “when you choose Louisiana seafood, you’re ensuring that your purchase benefits an American community and a way of life.”

When we visited Terrebonne Parish, home to nearly 20 percent of all commercial fishing license holders in Louisiana, we found that fishing means more to the people of this community than food and jobs. Here in South Louisiana, fishing is a vital part of the vibrant local culture and community pride. In a region that’s been devastated by hurricanes and oil spills, fishing is also a source of something more important: hope.

Below, you’ll hear what fishing means to South Louisiana’s fishing communities through the voices of a former shrimper, the owner of a grocery store that has served the town of Chauvin for more than a century, and representatives of a local Native American tribe. You’ll also get a glimpse into this beautiful part of the world through a photo slideshow. Together, this paints a picture of communities that have overcome unimaginable struggle, but still look forward to the future, in no small part because of the riches of the sea.

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This month’s 3D printed reward is a megalodon tooth! Here are 5 things to know about megalodon.

I recently unveiled a new tier of Patreon rewards: 3D printed shark and ray models! For $17 per month, you will get a monthly 3D printed educational model of different shark or ray parts in the mail, and you’ll be supporting my efforts to provide these models to schools for free.

The first month’s reward comes from one of the most (in)famous sharks of all time, Carcharocles megalodon! The first 3D printed Patreon reward is a meg tooth, an exact copy of the meg tooth that has been used to educate thousands of students at UBC’s Beaty Biodiversity Museum!

The original tooth

Here are some things to know about Carcharocles megalodon!

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Announcing new Patreon rewards: 3D printed shark and ray models!

Smalltooth sawfish rostrum

Want to support public education about sharks and rays while getting some one-of-a-kind elasmoswag? Sign up for my latest tier of Patreon rewards! Each month, you’ll receive a 3D printed educational model highlighting various aspects of shark and ray biology in the mail. These models will include:

  • Shark teeth
  • Components of shark jaws
  • Stingray spines
  • Sawfish rostra
  • Egg cases
  • Skulls and brains
  • and more!

All models are 3D printed copies of real biological specimens used by scientists or educators somewhere in the world, and in every case I’ll share the story of the individual object involved! Some models I’ll scan myself from museum and teaching collections, and others I’ll get from colleagues. The approximate size is shown below- typically, depending on shape, they’re about 2-3 inches long.

For each monthly model, I’ll also create and share a blog post highlighting science associated with that object! These blog posts will link to scientific articles and media coverage about related issues, and will include interviews with scientists involved in those discoveries. Anyone, not just people who receive these objects as a Patreon reward, will be able to see these blog posts and learn from them.

Megalodon tooth

Best of all, your support allows me to create these models and distribute them to schools free of charge! Every sponsored school science classroom will not only get free models, but a chance to Skype with me.

This rewards tier is $17 per month, and is only available to US residents. For now, it is limited to 20 people.

Sign up today! 

The rewards so far:

April 2018- Megalodon tooth! (More details soon, picture to the right)

Have you heard the good news about shark populations? Shark population increases are cause for #OceanOptimism

Did you know that some shark populations have declined due to overfishing? Did you know that some once-declined shark populations have recovered? If you’re like my twitter followers, it’s likely that you’ve heard the bad news, but have not heard the good news.

Why does this matter?
It’s important to share bad news so that people know there’s a problem, and that we need to act to solve that problem. However, it’s also important to share good news so that people know that a problem is solvable! This idea was behind the birth of the #OceanOptimism online outreach campaign.

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Canada proposed revisions to the Fisheries Act. Here’s how science and conservation experts reacted.

Yesterday, the government of Canada announced some proposed amendments to the national Fisheries Act. The full text of the proposal can be viewed here. So far, it’s gone through the First Reading in the House of Commons (for my non-Canadian readers, here is what that means). I reached out to fisheries and conservation policy experts across Canada to ask what they think of these proposed changes.

Image courtesy Fisheries and Oceans Canada, modified by Hakai Magazine

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A year of snot-oozing, carcass-scavenging, slime eels: Hagfish Science in 2017.

Hagfish. You love them. I love them. The owner of this sedan has no choice but to love them:

Photo courtesy Oregon State Police.

2017 was a big year for hagfish science.

Big Ideas (the ecologic paradigms that hagfish shifted) 

Heincke’s law is one of those ecologic principles that more often acts as a foil for rejecting the null hypothesis than as a consistent pattern in ecology. It’s most basic summary is: The further from shore and the deeper dwelling a fish is, the bigger it grows. Heincke’s law does not appear to be true for hagfish, whose size appear to have no relation to the depth at which they occur. On the other hand, phylogenetic relationships do seem to play some role in regulating body size in hagfish.

Defense and Behavior (how hagfish do the things that they do)

Hagfish are master escape artists, capable of squeezing in and out of tight spaces barely half the width of their body. This great for getting in an out of rotting whale carcasses on the sea floor, creeping into crevices, and avoiding predators. But how do they accomplish this incredible feat? Hagfish have a flaccid sinus under their skin which allows them to control the distribution of venous blood and alter their body width as they wriggle through narrow passages. Freedman and Fudge identified 9 distinct behaviors which take advantage of this adaptation, including anchoring, forming tight loops to push the body through an opening, and bending the hagfish head 90 degrees to force it through a slit. And there are videos!

The Fudge lab has been busy this year, cranking out some of the most noteworthy work on the incredible behavior of hagfish. In addition to examining hagfish motility, Boggett and friends looked into how those flaccid sinuses aid predator avoidance. The team build wee little guillotines loaded with shark teeth to see how hagfish skin protects the animal from vicious bites. In a year when a truckload of hagfish spectacularly crushed a car, the fact that this research was the biggest breakout sensation in hagfish pop culture says everything you need to know about the compelling results of this study. You can read more about this study at The Verge, Futurity, Popular Science, and plenty of other outlets.

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17 amazing and important things about sharks and rays that scientists discovered in 2017

2017 was… yeah. Of all the years I’ve lived through, 2017 was definitely one of them. Anyway, some interesting things happened in the world of shark research. Here, in no particular order, are 17 amazing and important things that scientists discovered about sharks and rays over the last year.


1 Sharks can switch between sexual and asexual reproduction. We’ve known that several shark species can reproduce asexually for over a decade now, but this year, Dudgeon and friends showed an individual shark switching between sexual and asexual reproduction for the first time!

Noteworthy media coverage: CNN, National Geographic, Gizmodo

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What is a Sand Shark?

I’d like to take a moment rant about a particular pet peeve of mine, which involves the seemingly-dull subject of species common names.  As you may have learned in biology class, all identified and described species are assigned a Latin scientific name, which is intended to be a universal identifier of that species regardless of where it’s coming up in conversation.  However, scientific names are not typically very familiar to non-scientists, so common names remain the most, well, common way to refer to a species.

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A scientifically accurate list of the most endangered sharks in the world

One of the most common questions I get during my “ask me anything” sessions on twitter is “which species of sharks are the most endangered?” Whenever I can’t completely answer a question in a single tweet, I like to link to more information from a reliable source.

However, I’ve struggled to easily answer this question with a link, because much of the information out there about this particular question is incomplete, misleading, or just wrong.  Several online lists of the most endangered species of sharks* don’t actually include the most endangered species of sharks. Many of these lists could be re-titled as “the conservation status of some species of sharks I’ve heard of and could easily find pictures of” or “some random information I heard out of context about shark conservation.” Since there isn’t an easily accessible source of accurate information about this important shark science and conservation topic, I’ll make one myself. ( I should note here that I am referring only to true sharks, not to other chondrichthyans, even though other chondrichthyans in many cases face similar or worse threats. )

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