Following a growing problem of mishandling of species of conservation concern, New York’s Department of Environmental Conservation is proposing some new shark fishing regulations. Here is the text of the letter I sent them supporting some of those proposed regulations, and proposing additional regulations.
A dead sand tiger shark washed up on a New York beach with recreational fishing gear in its mouth. Photo Vincent Cavaleri, via the DEC website.
Dear Commissioner Seggos, New York State Department of Environmental Conservation,
As a marine biologist with expertise in the conservation impacts of recreational fisheries on threatened shark species, I write in support of several proposed changes to New York State’s land-based shark fishing regulations. Additionally, while I am not a New York resident, I and my family have vacationed in your beautiful state every summer of my life. I learned to fish in New York from my grandfather, and those experiences contributed to my lifelong love of underwater life.
I studied Florida’s recreational shark fishery and its conservation impacts as part of my Ph.D. at the University of Miami’s Abess Center for Ecosystem Science and Policy. That work contributed to Florida changing their land-based fishing regulations.
In 2011, the world’s first fishery for sharks was certified as sustainable by the Marine Stewardship Council*. The British Columbia spiny dogfish fishery made major news in fisheries management and ocean conservation world, where the possible existence of sustainable shark fisheries has been debated intensely. A few years later, the fishery voluntarily withdrew their certification, and never publicly said why.
I wanted to know what happened with this scientific mystery. So, with the help of Chuck Bangley and Catherine Macdonald and funding support from the Liber Ero Postdoctoral Fellowship program, I organized a research expedition to find out. The results of our expedition can be found in our new paper (LINK,) (OPEN ACCESS AUTHOR COPY) but in this blog post, I’d like to explain what we did, what we found, and why we think it’s important.
Cuttings (short and sweet):
Spoils (long reads and deep dives):
- What Happens When Humans Fall In Love With An Invasive Species? By Maggie Koerth-Baker, for 538. This is a really excellent long read about the cultural impacts of invasive species, and how they’re not always considered to be bad.
- Herschel, the Very Hungry Sea Lion. By Katharine Gammon, for Hakai. This great story is all about how humans wrongly blame marine predators for our own overfishing.
- Will Americans Embrace A Zeal For Eel? This Maine Entrepreneur Hopes So. By Fred Bever, for NPR.
- Finding home, magnetically. From ScienceFriday.
- Scientists map the impact of trawling using satellite vessel tracking. By John Cannon, for MongaBay
- Scientists catch rare glimpses of endangered vaquita. By Elisabeth Malkin, for the New York Times.
- The internet of animals that could help to save vanishing wildlife. By Andrew Curry, for Nature
- And don’t forget to check out my first-ever op ed, about shark fishing in Florida
Please add your own cuttings and spoils in the comments!
If you appreciate my shark research and conservation outreach, please consider supporting me on Patreon! Any amount is appreciated, and supporters get exclusive rewards!
A photo used in this study showing a hammerhead shark taken completely out of the water. As with all photos used in this study, the angler’s privacy has been protecting by blurring out his face.
I have a new paper out on the conservation impacts of recreational shark fishing. The paper is called “fishing practices and representations of shark conservation issues among users of a land-based shark angling online forum,” and it is published in the journal Fisheries Research. If you don’t have institutional library access, you can read a copy of the paper here. The goal of this blog post is to provide background information on the study.
Journalists are free to quote or paraphrase information from this blog post. Additionally, I provide some suggested quotes below, and I am available for interviews about this paper (please contact me at WhySharksMatter at gmail).
On January 1st, 2012, new Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission regulations came into effect, making it illegal for fishermen to land great, smooth, or scalloped hammerhead sharks in Florida waters. The legal term “land” is clearly defined in the Florida Code:
“Land,” when used in connection with the harvest of marine organisms, means the physical act of bringing the harvested organism ashore”
“Harvest” means the catching or taking of a marine organism by any means whatsoever, followed by a reduction of such organism to possession. Marine organisms that are caught but immediately returned to the water free, alive, and unharmed are not harvested”
Florida code section 68B-44 (emphasis mine)
In other words, if a fish is brought out of the water, it is “landed”. If anglers stop the act of releasing a fish to measure it or take a photo, it is not “immediately released.” If a fish isn’t “immediately returned alive and unharmed” (and if the extremely physiologically stressful act of bringing a hammerhead out of the water results in it dying after release, it was not released “unharmed,”) it is harvested. If you drag the shark out of the water and leave it there until it stops moving long enough that you feel safe to approach it, that is not an “immediately released” animal, and it isn’t an animal that is “released unharmed.” Landing and/or harvesting hammerhead sharks is illegal. This is clear under the law, and has been confirmed by numerous consultations with an FWC Law Enforcement official.
At the 2014 ScienceOnlineTogether conference, I will be moderating a session focusing on how to use social media as a scientific research tool (2:30 P.M. on Friday, February 28th in room 3). The hashtag is #ScioResearch , so be sure to follow along, and I’ll make a Storify afterwards. This post is primarily intended to be a source of background information for participants in my session, though feel free to read, share and ask questions in the comments if you are not planning on participating in my session.
ScienceOnline community members understand the value of social media for collaborating with colleagues and communicating science to the public, but few think of the incredible resource that these tools are for scientific research. Hundreds of millions of people all over the world are constantly sharing their experiences and opinions in a format that is public, archived, searchable, and accessible, giving researchers access to this enormous dataset without the expense or logisitical difficulties involved in organizing a large-scale survey or series of focus groups. To use a technical term, for many types of scientific research, social media and “big data” is what is called “a freakin’ gold mine.”
Below are a few examples of how social media can be used for scientific research.
In 1999, government officials from all over the world gathered in Rome for a meeting of the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization’s Committee on Fisheries. The Committee meets every two years, but one of the numerous outputs of this meeting was particularly significant, at least for sharks. Based on years of consultation and discussion by experts, the group agreed on a formal set of general principles that should make up sustainable and well-managed shark fisheries.
These 10 principles, part of a larger International Plan of Action for Sharks (IPOA-Sharks) , have helped shape more than a decade of scientific research and management priorities for the chondrichthyan fishes. When properly implemented and enforced, they allow people to use sharks (and rays and skates and chimeras, included in the IPOA-Sharks definition of “sharks”) as a natural resource while keeping populations healthy and allowing depleted stocks to recover.
According to the IPOA-Sharks, a national shark plan should aim to:
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.
If a picture is worth a thousand words, than Man and Shark is a must for anyone interested in shark fisheries and conservation issues. This book by Alex Hofford and Paul Hilton features a collection of incredible photographs of sharks and shark fishing from all over the planet, from the fishing ports of the developing world to the markets of Asia and the kitchens and restaurants where shark fin soup is prepared and served. The list of 14 contributing conservation photographers features some of the world’s best.
Each chapter features a brief introduction (in both English and Mandarin Chinese) explaining key points about shark biology or conservation, followed by a series of stunning, and in some cases horrifying, photos which showcase both the diversity of living sharks and the global industrial scale of shark fisheries. Photos of finned sharks lying on the seabed paired with interviews from fisheries biologists and conservationists gets the message across concisely, directly and effectively.
Man and Shark is a passionate call for humans to change our relationship with the oceans, and I commend Paul and Alex for their excellent contribution to the world of shark conservation.