This week, a federal judge ruled against the Trump administration for violating federal law by failing to use all available scientific evidence to end the overfishing of dusky sharks in U.S. waters. The ruling, in response to an Oceana lawsuit filed by Earthjustice, requires the federal government to do more to end the rampant overfishing that has plagued dusky sharks. Dusky shark populations off the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico coasts have plummeted by at least 65 percent in the past two decades as a result of bycatch — the capture of non-target fish and ocean wildlife.
“Oceana thanks the court for requiring the federal government to use better science and take stronger action to protect dusky sharks in U.S. waters. It’s outrageous that this important shark has been overfished for nearly two decades due to the government’s inaction, ignoring its responsibilities under the law,” said Oceana campaign director Whitney Webber. “Thousands of sharks are incidentally caught and killed in fishing gear every year. It’s clear we need serious changes in fishing regulations to help rebuild these vulnerable sharks, including requiring hard bycatch caps, so fishing activity stops once a limit is reached.”
In April 2017, the federal government released regulations intended to address the overfishing of dusky sharks. In its lawsuit, Oceana alleged the Trump administration violated federal law by failing to consider important fishery data while drafting this rule, and by not addressing the main cause of dusky shark declines — bycatch.
“The court thoroughly examined the evidence and found the Fisheries Service ignored important scientific information,” said Earthjustice staff attorney Brettny Hardy. “This opinion confirms that the Fisheries Service can’t restore dusky sharks without first knowing how big of a problem the sharks face.”
Dusky sharks grow slowly and have low reproductive rates, making them highly vulnerable to overfishing. Despite the federal government acknowledging that dusky sharks were overfished nearly 20 years ago, it still has not solved the problem by ending the overfishing immediately, as federal law requires. Thousands of dusky sharks have been caught as bycatch since they were officially prohibited from being targeted by fishermen in 2000, leaving their populations struggling to recover.