37 things I learned about shark ecology and conservation for my dissertation

The fam attending my dissertation defense

The fam attending my dissertation defense

After a little more than 5 years of hard work, I’ve officially completed my Ph.D.! You can read my dissertation (“An Integrative and Interdisciplinary Approach to Shark Conservation: Policy Solutions, Ecosystem Role, and Stakeholder Attitudes”) online here in its entirety.

In case there are some among you who don’t really want to read a 281 page dissertation but are curious about what I found, I’ve prepared this blog post to summarize my key conclusions. (Note: this does not include every conclusion. Some are aggregated together, and some more technical conclusions are omitted for this summary).

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A request to environmentalists and journalists discussing shark fin ban legislation

Many of the U.S. state-level shark fin bans which make it illegal to buy, sell, or possess shark fins include exemptions for smooth and spiny dogfish, i.e. by far the most common species of sharks caught by U.S. fishermen. Some of these fisheries have significant conservation concerns associated with them. Much of this fishing is not currently subject to catch limits or other basic management

You would never know that most locally caught sharks are not affected at all by fin bans by reading most of the action alerts that some conservation organizations send out to encourage ocean lovers to support these laws, by following most of the media coverage of these laws, or by reading most people’s excited posts after these laws pass. Many of these inaccurately say that shark fin bans “protect all sharks.”

I have a request to make to the conservation organizations supporting these laws, journalists covering them, and the shark and ocean lovers celebrating when they pass. If you want to support laws with an exemption for dogfish sharks, that’s fine, but let’s have an open and honest discussion about why you are doing this instead of just acting like it isn’t happening.

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Shark fin bans: A storify of this week’s twitter discussion

Earlier this week, I asked my twitter followers what they thought about shark fin bans, which prompted a long and stimulating discussion. What follows is my first attempt at “Storify”, shared in the hopes that the discussion can continue here.

As I’ve said before, I’m not a big supporter of shark fin bans because they don’t allow for sustainable, well-managed fisheries to supply the market. Additionally, they promote the common (and false) belief that shark fin soup is the only major problem facing sharks, and don’t address many of the other important issues associated with shark conservation.

Instead, I favor a comprehensive approach to shark management, including requiring that sharks be landed with fins attached (i.e. a ban on “finning” but the fins can still be used if the shark is landed whole), special protections for threatened and endangered species, science-based fisheries quotas for species that can sustain fishing, time/area closures or gear restrictions when necessary, and  careful monitoring (including requiring that all fishing nations report the species composition of their catch).

Check out the great discussion if you missed it, and let me know what you think of this important issue in the comments of this post.

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Hooray for California, but there’s still much work to be done to save sharks


Photo credit: Jessica King, Marine Photobank

Earlier today,  the California legislature voted to approve AB 376,  the excitingly titled “act to add section 2021 to the Fish and Game Code,  relating to sharks”. The ocean conservation community is happy,  and we should be. The bill and its backing from Hollywood stars have generated substantial media coverage of the plight of sharks,  and,  if signed into law by the Governor and properly enforced,  it could well save a lot of sharks. However,  fin bans aren’t the perfect solution to the shark conservation crisis,  and we still have a lot of work to do to protect sharks and closely related species around the world.

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