Today, Oceana, which was represented by Earthjustice, 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.
In the lawsuit filed today, Oceana claims the Fisheries Service violated the Magnuson-Stevens Act, the primary law governing federal fisheries, by failing to end the overfishing of dusky sharks. Oceana also claims 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.
“Dusky sharks are an integral part of a healthy ocean, but their numbers have been decimated by years of abuse,” said Andrea Treece, the Earthjustice attorney representing Oceana in this case. “Our nation’s fisheries laws require the agency to arrest this decline and to immediately rebuild this vulnerable keystone ocean predator.”
Oceana campaign director Lora Snyder released the following statement: “The Fisheries Service has acknowledged for years that dusky sharks are critically depleted and in serious trouble, yet this population is still being overfished due to federal inaction.
“Three years ago, the Fisheries Service had a chance to address the situation when it proposed setting bycatch limits and closing certain dusky ‘hotspots’ to fishing. While this proposal was strongly supported by scientists, it was eventually withdrawn by the Fisheries Service, again leaving dusky sharks unprotected and overfished.
“The federal government is legally required to take action to recover this population. Any further delay is unacceptable.”
Photo courtesy of Clifton Beard
A juvenile dusky shark. The sharks are slow to mature and don’t reach adulthood until about 20 years of age, so they are unable to reproduce quickly enough to rebuild a healthy population when so many are killed and injured each year.
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.
Read the legal document.