The Billfish Foundation, Wednesday, Jan. 12, 2022—The Billfish Foundation (TBF) primarily focuses on billfish and other highly migratory species, including swordfish and tunas. “Sharks do not fall within our primary mission, however the current excessive shark depredation demands that TBF address the problem, otherwise billfish and many other species being killed by sharks, recreational fishing opportunities, and related businesses will continue to be harmed,” the Foundation stated. “Shark predation is out of control and the NMFS has no constructive plan to check it. In no way does TBF condone the finning of live sharks, it is a hideous practice that must be stopped.”
Balance between shark conservation, which has been hugely successful, and management of fisheries, the act of fishing by people, which supports jobs, markets, experiences and economics is needed. Balance is lacking in U.S. Atlantic shark management.
Those fishing know that shark depredation, the taking of angler-hooked fish from all platforms, is occurring at unseen rates and damages gear, ruins fishing experiences and negatively impacts economic returns. Crews share it is no longer safe to swim between boats, as sometimes needed to help with a problem on a companion vessel. The only way shark depredation will lessen is for fewer sharks to remain in the water, which could be realized with resurgence of a profitable bottom longline shark fishery and market.
Federal Solutions to Shark Depredation
In the NOAA/NMFS’ document, SHARE, which reviewed its Atlantic shark management, 3 solutions are offered, all considered essential, to better manage sharks, including addressing shark depredation: (1) schedule shark identification workshops for captains and anglers, (2) share educational material on how to avoid sharks while fishing – this would be an interesting read, and (3) establishing a recreational shark fishing quota that counts landed shark, released dead and live sharks and, factors in a post-release mortality percentage – this sounds punitive. These solutions offer no help; they merely redirect management’s energy to “busy-type work.” The intent is honorable, but comes mostly from those who have little to no fishing experience and do not understand fish or fishing dynamics on the water. Rather than spend a lot of money for contractors to research how to implement the three options, funds might be better used to assess how to increase legal landings of sharks to save that fishery and/or to redirect fishing effort to species not overfished, this is unfortunately a problem. Revitalizing the shark fishery is essential to help alleviate shark depredation.
Shark Finning Bans
Federal banning of finning of live sharks was important and has huge public support, including that from TBF. The bans collapsed the shark market because fins were the most lucrative product sold ($11.20 per pound). Harvesters then left the fishery. Dealers became uncertain what they could or should sell for even with fins removed from dead sharks remaining legal, public perception would not likely distinguish the fin source. Prices paid for shark products plummeted, all leading to excessive numbers of sharks remaining in the water depredating recreationally hooked fish. NOAA numbers from 2020 provide the value of the shark fishery is $2.28 million for landing 2.2 million sharks. Those economic numbers do not reflect successful management of the fishery, which includes jobs, people, economics and experiences. Some states followed the federal finning ban by implementing their own. Texas went further and also banned the possession of fins, even though the removal of fins from a dead shark remains legal. Pending federal legislation proposes to prohibit all sales of fins, even when legally obtained.
“Because federal law requires an annual report be sent to Congress from the federal agencies on the progress to stop shark finning and conservation accomplishments, it is our belief that the requirement elevated sharks to a higher priority with the federal staff members,” TBF states. “This is clear in the fishery management plan for HMS where 7 out of 13 completed plan amendments and an 8th one in draft are for Atlantic sharks.”
Science – Shark Assessments Questioned
The agency proclaims that its management is based on the “best available science,” which does not mean necessarily the most accurate science, often it means the science that is available. Stock assessments provide the foundation for fishery management decisions. The assessment methodology and processes (SEDAR) used for Atlantic large coastal and small coastal sharks continue to generate questions about data accuracy and methodologies. Perfection cannot be achieved in assessing numbers of wild animals moving across large expanses of ocean water, but TBF expects the highest standards, methodologies and expertise be used for subsequent decisions impact not only the species, but also people, experiences, jobs and economies. Government funds to improve stock assessment methodologies and processing should be a priority for sharks and all marine fish.
Recreational Shark Fishery
In estimating the number of sharks caught by anglers, the government includes in the “total catch”, the number of landed sharks kept, landed sharks discarded dead and landed sharks released alive. Including live releases implies agency staff seem to speculate that angler-released sharks die. TBF stated it does not accept that speculation as the truth. If a post-release mortality percentage is included, as proposed by the agency, anglers may soon not be able to catch sharks, almost treating all sharks as if listed under the Endangered Species List.