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.
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.
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.
The dissemination of science follows the conventional route of rigorous peer-review followed by publication in an accredited scientific journal. This process has been the standard foundation from which the general public can trust that the science is, at the very least, valid and honest. Of course this system is not without its flaws. Scientific papers of questionable authority, dishonest methodology, or simply flawed design frequently make it through the gates of peer-review. Politically charged papers possess strong biases and many high impact journals favor sexy or controversial topics.
Beyond the conventional route of peer-review, there exist a vast accumulation of gray literature – conference reports, technical notes, institutional papers, various articles written for specific entities that enter into general circulation without the filter of peer-review. Much of gray literature is valid, robust science, but much of it is not. The challenge is that sometimes gray literature is the only science available.