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A Closer Look at Shark Conservation

Sharks: A Key Part of Ocean Ecosystems

As one of the top predators of the oceans, sharks play an important role in the food web and help ensure balance in the ocean’s ecosystem. As demand and exploitation rates for some shark species and shark products (i.e., fins) have increased, concern has steadily grown regarding the status of many shark stocks and the insustainability in global fisheries. 

Relative to other marine fish, sharks are characterized by relatively slow growth, late sexual maturity, and a small number of young per brood. These biological factors leave many species of sharks vulnerable to overfishing. Fishermen catch sharks in directed fisheries and also as bycatch in other non-directed fisheries. Many shark species have been over-exploited because their fins are highly valued for shark fin soup. 

Globally there is a general lack of data reporting on the catch of sharks, particularly species-specific data. For these reasons, sharks present an array of issues and challenges for fisheries conservation and management both domestically and internationally. Despite the challenges, NOAA Fisheries is committed to achieving sustainable management of sharks. 

 

Shark Management in the United States

For nearly two decades the United States has been a leader in managing sustainable shark fisheries and currently has some of the strongest shark management measures worldwide. NOAA Fisheries manages the commercial and recreational shark fisheries in the Atlantic Ocean and works with three regional fishery management councils to conserve and sustainably manage sharks in the Pacific Ocean. By conducting research, assessing stocks, working with U.S. fishermen, and implementing restrictions when necessary, NOAA Fisheries successfully manages shark populations to maintain productive and sustainable fisheries.

The good news is that this helps ensure that shark fisheries continue to be sustainable in the future. There are currently no shark species listed under the Endangered Species Act, and for overfished shark species stocks, NOAA Fisheries applies management measures to rebuild the stock to a sustainable level. When we sustainably manage fishermen can harvest sharks, providing benefits to both the U.S. fishing industry and seafood consumers. 

Also, in the United States, laws prohibit “shark finning,” a process where industry only harvests the valuable shark fins and discards the rest of the shark at sea. Except for smoothhounds, the 2010 Shark Conservation Act requires that all sharks in the United States be brought to shore with their fins naturally attached, although individual states may have additional requirements for shark fisheries in state waters. Commercial shark fishermen can then sell both the meat and fins, which benefits their business and provides consumers with additional seafood alternatives.

Through these management measures, NOAA Fisheries and the related fishery management councils sustainably manage the shark population, which is good for fishermen, seafood consumers, and sharks.

The International Stage    

The United States continues to be a leader in promoting the conservation and management of sharks globally. We work internationally within regional fisheries management organizations and other international bodies to promote the adoption of conservation and management measures for sharks. NOAA was instrumental in getting shark conservation and management measures approved at the international level, and we are working to promote our fins naturally attached policy overseas.  We provide technical assistance to other countries in support of their shark conservation efforts, including shark identification and data collection workshops. We also collaborate on research promoting science-based management measures and conservation of sharks in our global ocean.  

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