What's at Stake
A keystone ocean predator, dusky sharks are an integral part of a healthy ocean. Their populations off the Atlantic and Gulf coasts have plummeted by 85% in the past two decades.
Earthjustice, representing Oceana, sued the federal government to end the overfishing of dusky sharks in U.S. waters. Dusky shark populations off the Atlantic and Gulf coasts have plummeted by 85 percent in the past two decades as a result of overfishing and bycatch—the incidental capture of fish and ocean wildlife. In 2000, the National Marine Fisheries Service prohibited fishermen from targeting dusky sharks and bringing them to the dock, in an attempt to help rebuild the population. However, the Fisheries Service did not account for fishing vessels incidentally catching and killing dusky sharks as bycatch. Since that time, government data shows that as many as 75,000 dusky sharks may have been caught and discarded as bycatch in the Atlantic and Gulf.
The lawsuit claimed the Fisheries Service violated the Magnuson-Stevens Act, the primary law governing federal fisheries, by failing to end the overfishing of dusky sharks. It also claimed the federal government failed to establish an annual catch limit and measures to enforce such a limit as well as failed to revise dusky shark management measures once it became apparent that the current measures were not rebuilding the population to healthy levels, as required by law.
On May 18, 2016, the National Marine Fisheries Service entered into a settlement agreement. The agency agreed to develop a new rule to address dusky shark conservation and management, as required by the Magnuson-Stevens Act. Under the agreement, the new rule must be proposed by October 14, and the final rule submitted by March 31, 2017. Earthjustice and our client Oceana will continue to work during the rulemaking period to ensure the new rule is strong and effective in rebuilding the dusky shark population to healthy levels.
Dusky sharks grow slowly and have low reproductive rates, rendering the species highly vulnerable to overfishing. Over 4,000 dusky sharks are snagged every year in fishing gear meant to catch other species such as grouper, snapper, swordfish and other shark species. Many of these dusky sharks—as much as 80 percent—die by the time they are hauled to the boat and tossed overboard. Federal fisheries law required the Fisheries Service to cap the number of dusky sharks killed due to fishing effort by 2010, but it still has not done so.