August 16, 2022

We Show Sharks Some Legal Love

Every summer, when people start going to the beach, we hear reports of shark sightings. Shark encounters get everyone’s attention—and not always for the reasons they should.

Beyond their sensational reputation as top predators, sharks are canaries in the coal mine. Healthy shark populations are key to biodiversity in the marine ecosystems on which we all depend. In addressing the problem of declining biodiversity, Earthjustice’s Oceans team focuses on legal and policy efforts to protect sharks.

Most people don’t realize that there are more than 450 species of sharks roaming the world’s oceans, and some of them are worldwide emissaries that migrate great distances. The variety of shark species is mind-blowing. Interesting tasseled wobbegongare “carpet sharks” that hug the ocean floor and mingle with reefs. whale sharks It is the largest fish in the world (some the size of a school bus) and can swim entire oceans to feed on huge tiny plankton and fish eggs. this goblin shark It is a species that prowls in dark waters about a mile below the ocean’s surface. In the Pacific, some native Hawaiians view the graceful Oceanian whitetip sharks as sacred guardians.

The biggest threat to sharks is not great white shark hunters like Captain Quint. jaws – daily overfishing. aspect New York Times “In just the last half-century alone, humans have caused a staggering decline worldwide,” the reports said. Sharks and rays floating in the open oceans, scientists have found in the first global assessment of its kind, published in the journal Nature. ocean Sharks and rays have declined 71 percent since 1970, mainly due to overfishing.”

Industrial fishing can be a death sentence for sharks, even if they are not targets. Sharks and other creatures are killed unintentionally as “side-fishing” by longline fishing fleets targeting other species, including tuna and swordfish. Boats drag hook-filled ropes stretching up to 50 miles. Once caught, a shark can struggle for hours and die. Even if pulled into the boat and left alive, it may die later from stress, infection or injury. Many other protected species, including giant manta rays, sea turtles, seabirds, and marine mammals, become bystanders on these longlines.

As part of our work to protect biodiversity, Earthjustice has launched a series of legal challenges to protect vulnerable shark species:

Ocean white ends – These once-abundant sharks were listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act in 2018, but took a series of legal actions over the course of four years to ensure that regulators do whatever it takes to protect a species headed for extinction.

First, Earthjustice reached an agreement in 2020 with the Hawai’i Conservation Council and the National Marine Fisheries Service on behalf of Mike Nakachi, an indigenous Hawaiian cultural practitioner. The National Marine Fisheries Service eventually decided to designate the population of ocean whitebirds as “overfishing,” a major move that triggered protective actions.

We built on this decision by advocating for protective measures in US fisheries while also forcing the Fisheries Services to promote these measures in other countries with large longline fishing fleets. So far, the Fisheries Service has adopted a key policy in the US – requiring fleets to switch to some type of fishing line that hook sharks can more easily bite off. This change in fishing gear increases the sharks’ chances of surviving hooked, but they can still suffer injuries from hooks embedded in their jaws. The United States also advocates this change internationally. We need to take even more measures to prevent sharks from hooking up in the first place, and we’re working to put policies in place.

Second, Earthjustice sued the National Marine Fisheries Service in May 2022 because the agency allows multiple longline fisheries in the Central and Western Pacific to catch, injure and kill ocean whitetips without making sure that the fishing effects do not harm the species. ‘ ability to prevent survival or recovery to healthy levels. The Endangered Species Act requires the Fisheries Service to complete scientific studies before allowing fishing that could harm these sharks.

Worse, the agency hasn’t even placed a limit on the number of ocean whiteheads this longline fisherman can catch, injure, and kill. Endangered Species Act. The Fisheries Service estimates that several thousand oceanic whitefin fish are caught each year in the Hawaiian longline, the American Samoan longline, and the US tuna purse seine. Unfortunately, overfishing has caused the population in the Pacific to decline by 80-95% since the 1990s. In this case, our clients are the Hawai’i Conservation Council and native Hawaiian cultural practitioner Nakachi.

Illegal fishing and bycatch – Because sharks roam widely, our work cannot be limited to country borders. We know that widespread illegal fishing practices and unrestricted fishing are destroying ocean biodiversity, but measuring and regulating globally is not an easy thing. However, there is one indicator in the regulatory space that we are focusing on – a key report on international fisheries management that the Fisheries Service presents to the US Congress every two years.

In this report, the Fisheries Service identifies countries where fleets use illegal or irregular practices. It also marks countries that capture sensitive marine species and do not have as many protective regulations as those in the United States. If the country does not resolve the issues, the United States can “negatively endorse” that country and impose a variety of penalties, including trade sanctions. The Fisheries Service report is a tool to expose unsustainable fisheries and hold nations and fishing vessels accountable.

Offshore industrial fishing is dominated by the wealthier countries of the world as it is expensive to operate so far offshore. These remote industrial fleets are killing important migratory species such as sharks and stingrays, sea turtles and marine mammals. Illegal or unregulated fishing accounts for 15-30% of annual global catches. But in previous reports, the Fisheries Service identified only a handful of countries engaged in illegal and poorly regulated fishing – a huge shortfall.

We saw some improvement in the 2021 report. The Fisheries Service has updated its method for determining if a nation is listed. This time, 31 countries were listed for having problematic fishing practices, which encourages participation and action.

The next report on illegal and unregulated fishing will come in 2023 and Earthjustice plans to get involved. First, we are working hard to find evidence of nations catching sharks in the high seas without adequate regulation, and second, we will demand that the United States hold these bad actors accountable.

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