Today, on behalf of Defenders of Wildlife and the Center for Biological Diversity, Earthjustice sued the Trump administration today for failing to protect oceanic whitetip sharks and giant manta rays from being captured and killed in U.S. fisheries in the Atlantic Ocean and the Gulf of Mexico.
The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) listed the oceanic whitetip shark and giant manta ray as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act in early 2018, triggering the agency’s obligation to protect these species from undue harm when authorizing U.S. fishery operations.
The lawsuit charges the Fisheries Service with failing to satisfy that obligation as it continues to authorize fisheries managed under the Atlantic Highly Migratory Species Fishery Management Plan. The Plan requires that U.S. fisheries operating in the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico comply with national laws as well as international laws and standards.
The need for protections comes at a pressing time as the oceanic whitetip shark has suffered population declines of up to 88% in the Atlantic; while the giant manta ray population has plummeted almost 95 percent.
The NMFS has yet to regulate harmful gear & tactics used by U.S. fisheries, including longlines in the water column (which are baited hooks up to 45 miles long), longlines along the bottom (targeting sharks) and drift gillnets (which have been called “walls of death”), all which have contributed greatly to the sharp decline in oceanic biodiversity.
“These indiscriminate fishing practices are outdated,” said Jane Davenport, an attorney at Defenders of Wildlife. “We can’t keep fishing this way while sharks, manta rays, and other accidental victims head toward extinction. As the agency charged with conserving these imperiled species and managing U.S. fisheries, the National Marine Fisheries Service is under a double obligation to comply with the Endangered Species Act’s mandate to ensure the survival and recovery of the oceanic whitetip shark and giant manta ray.”
“These sharks and rays won federal protection, but they’re still being slaughtered by reckless fishing practices,” said Catherine Kilduff, a Center for Biological Diversity attorney. “The Trump administration has to follow through by regulating the deadly Atlantic longline and gillnet fisheries. Giant manta rays and oceanic whitetip sharks will keep declining if our government doesn’t do its moral and legal duty to protect them.”
“The Fisheries Service has long recognized that the oceanic whitetip shark and giant manta ray need protection,” said Earthjustice attorney Chris Eaton. “It can’t sit idly by while allowing deadly fishing practices to indiscriminately sweep the sharks and rays into their nets and longlines.”
Reducing the primary threats to these species, intentional and incidental catch in commercial fishing, is key to their survival and recovery.