Today, Oceana, represented by Earthjustice, has filed a lawsuit against the Trump administration for its continued failure to end the overfishing of dusky sharks in U.S. waters and rebuild the depleted population, as required by law. The lawsuit was filed in response to a final rule the federal government issued in April that is supposed to address its failing management of dusky sharks.
According to Oceana, the new measures will not effectively reduce and limit bycatch, the main cause of dusky shark declines. Bycatch is the capture of non-target fish and ocean wildlife. Tens of thousands of dusky sharks may have been caught as bycatch since they were officially prohibited from being targeted by fishermen in 2000, leaving their populations struggling to recover.
Dusky shark populations off the Atlantic and Gulf coasts have plummeted by at least 65 percent in the past two decades as a result of overfishing and bycatch. Dusky sharks grow slowly and have low reproductive rates, making them highly vulnerable to overfishing. Despite the federal government acknowledging that dusky sharks were severely depleted nearly 20 years ago, they are still being overfished today in violation of federal law.
In the lawsuit, Oceana challenges the final rule for violations of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Managment and Conservation Act and the National Environmental Policy Act. The lawsuit states the rule 1) fails to establish required annual limits on the amount of dusky shark bycatch that can be taken as well as measures to enforce those limits; 2) fails to reduce the number of dusky sharks killed as bycatch by at least 35 percent, which is the level needed for the species to have even a 50 percent chance of recovering; and 3) fails to evaluate the environmental impacts of the rule as well as analyze reasonable alternatives that would succeed in ending overfishing and helping the dusky shark rebound.
Oceana campaign director, Lora Snyder, released the following statement surrounding the new lawsuit:
“When the federal government agreed last year to release a new rule to protect dusky sharks, Oceana hoped this opportunity would create meaningful action on an issue that has been effectively ignored for decades. After the rule was released, however, it became clear this was just an extension of the status quo. We need significant changes in U.S. fisheries if we want to save the thousands of vulnerable sharks that are killed by human activity every year.
“The rule released last month continues the gross mismanagement of shark species in U.S. waters. It provides no accountability or consequences for fishermen who catch prohibited shark species as bycatch as well as no incentive or mechanism to stop them.
“If the federal government just implements three simple solutions, we could drastically reduce the overfishing of prohibited sharks in U.S. waters. Oceana urges the Trump administration to come out with new measures to count, cap and control the number of sharks being caught, so fishing activity can stop once a scientifically based cap is reached.”
Andrea Treece, Earthjustice attorney representing Oceana in the litigation, stated:
“In order to give dusky sharks a clear shot at recovering to a healthy population level, the Fisheries Service has to put a stop to the excessive bycatch across the multiple fisheries that snag these sharks. The Fisheries Service is trying to solve the overfishing problem without addressing the primary cause.
“It’s a bit like trying to reduce car accidents by posting a speed limit but not monitoring traffic and stopping cars for speeding. Ultimately, you need to actually enforce the limit to get drivers to slow down.”