Public Comment Sought on Listing Hammerhead Sharks under Endangered Species Act

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is seeking public comment on the proposal to list scalloped hammerhead sharks (Sphyrna lewini) under the Endangered Species Act. The species is already listed as endangered on the IUCN Red List.

WildEarth Guardians and Friends of Animals petitioned NOAA to list four populations of scalloped hammerhead sharks under the Endangered Species Act (ESA) in 2011. NOAA’s Fisheries Service subsequently determined the petition “provided sufficient information to demonstrate that listing may be warranted,” initiating  a status review of the species. In November 2011, NOAA published a notice that the listing may be warranted. The status review was published in April 2013.

“Sharks are a valuable part of our ocean ecosystems, and the sharks we are proposing to list under the Endangered Species Act are in trouble,” says Sam Rauch, assistant NOAA administrator for fisheries. “Sharks worldwide face a number of threats, and these sharks in particular, are facing threats from inadequate worldwide fisheries management to poaching for their fins.”

A listing will not be applied to all populations of the species in U.S. waters, as fisheries managers have already undertaken steps to help protect the species in some regions. A listing would bring commercial activity dealing in the species to an end in the U.S., although the impacts to fishers would be minimal, as the species is not “a significant component of catch or bycatch” by commercial or recreational fishers in the United States. Further, “in the U.S. Western Pacific territories, scalloped hammerhead sharks are not a component of subsistence fisheries and are rarely caught or seen.” Imports of the species would also be prohibited with an ESA listing.

ICUN says the scalloped hammerhead shark is taken as both a target and bycatch by trawls, purse-seines, gillnets, fixed bottom longlines, pelagic longlines and inshore artisanal fisheries. In addition, IUCN warns the species’ fins are “highly valued and they are being increasingly targeted in some areas in response to increasing demand for shark fins.” In general, IUCN adds, hammerhead fins have a very high value relative to other shark fins because of their high fin ray count. According to IUCN, it is estimated that between 1.3 and 2.7 million S. zygaena or S. lewini are represented in the shark fin trade each year or, in biomass, 49,000 to 90,000 metric tons.

Last October a proposal to add scalloped hammerhead shark to Appendix II of CITES was sponsored by a number of countries. The proposal will be considered for adoption at the next CITES meeting in March 2013.

NOAA is seeking comments from the public on the proposed listing for 60 days (until 4 June 2013). Public comment may be submitted via the Federal eRulemaking Portal.

About Ret Talbot

Ret Talbot is a freelance writer who covers fisheries at the intersection of science and sustainability. His work has appeared in publications such as National Geographic, Mongabay, Discover Magazine, Ocean Geographic and Coral Magazine. He lives on the coast of Maine with his wife, scientific illustrator Karen Talbot.
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