Plan for imperiled shark doesn't please all conservationists
PORTLAND, Maine (AP) -- The federal government isn't going far enough with a plan to protect a threatened shark that lives off the East Coast and has been decimated by the fin trade, some conservationists argue.
The National Marine Fisheries Service is proposing changes to federal fishing rules with the goal of protecting dusky sharks, a large species that is down to about 20 percent of its 1970s population off the East Coast and in the Gulf of Mexico because of commercial fishing for the species that's now illegal off the U.S.
Dusky sharks were long hunted for their meat and oil, as well as their fins, which are used to make soup in traditional Chinese cooking.
The fisheries service is proposing a suite of new rules for recreational and commercial fishermen designed to protect the shark, which is sometimes still killed via accidental bycatch by fishermen seeking other species. But conservation group Oceana said the rules aren't strict enough and leave the sharks vulnerable.
Part of the problem is that the plan focuses on accidental catch of the sharks by swordfish and tuna fishermen, and they are often caught by fishermen seeking other species than those, said Lora Snyder, the Oceana campaign director.
"We see this as more of the same," she said. "They are ignoring fisheries where dusky shark bycatch is happening."
The government's proposal is subject to public comment until Thursday. The proposal comes as a result of a legal settlement between the fisheries service in Oceana after the conservation group charged in federal court that the government was taking too long to protect dusky sharks.
The fisheries service is proposing alternatives such as requiring certain kinds of fishermen to use gear less likely to kill the dusky sharks. They also include a new educational campaign and a requirement that fishermen inform one another of the presence of dusky sharks and leave a fishing area if they find one.
Tobey Curtis, a fishery management specialist for the service, said Oceana is welcome to submit public comment. The proposal, he said, could morph based on such feedback.
"We're basically training folks in best practices to maximize their survival," Curtis said. "There's a big outreach push."
The sharks' range off the East Coast extends as far south as Argentina. They also live off California, Australia and Africa.