On March 1, the National Marine Fisheries Service adopted emergency regulations to protect shortfin mako sharks, after a new stock assessment conducted by the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) indicated that the species was severely overfished, and undergoing very severe overfishing.
Such emergency regulations increased the minimum size limit for shortfin makos from 54 to 83 inches, and limited commercial retention to makos retrieved dead on pelagic longlines; all other makos caught on commercial gear had to be released.
However, emergency regulations are, by their very nature, temporary. The regulations adopted last March may only remain in place for 180 days, after which the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) has the option to extend them for an additional 186 days. Once that time has passed, the emergency regulations will expire.
Thus, in order to give the shortfin mako the protection that it requires over a longer period of time, NMFS has begun the process of drafting permanent regulations (Draft Regulations) which, if adopted, will become Amendment 11 to the Consolidated Highly Migratory Species Fishery Management Plan. The stated purpose of such amendment is to “Implement measures to address overfishing and establish the foundation for rebuilding North American shortfin mako sharks” consistent with the ICCAT stock assessment and resultant recommendation.
The Draft Regulations are based upon comments submitted to NMFS last spring, when it sought public input on appropriate shortfin mako management measures.
Although the Draft Regulations have not yet been finalized, and a number of alternatives may be considered, NMFS has designated some “preferred alternatives” that, absent convincing public comment to the contrary, will probably be in the final rule. Such preferred alternatives would result in final regulations that would be similar, but not identical, to the emergency regulations already in place.
The preferred commercial alternative, for example, would allow any vessel, and not just pelagic longline vessels, to retain any shortfin makos that were dead when first brought to boatside. That would allow shark gillnetters and bottom longliners to retain such dead makos, but only if the vessels were equipped with video monitoring equipment that would allow NMFS to determine whether the sharks were dead when brought aboard. Such video equipment is already required on pelagic longline vessels, but would represent an additional expense for participants in other fisheries, so it isn’t clear how many gillnetters or bottom longliners would take advantage of the opportunity.
Various non-preferred alternatives ranged from taking no action, which would allow commercial fishermen to continue to land any shortfin makos caught, provided that they hold a limited access shark permit, to a prohibition on all commercial harvest. Most of the non-preferred commercial alternatives would place various conditions on retention, including size limits, measurement by on-board observers, and other monitoring measures.
The preferred recreational alternative would continue the emergency regulations’ 83-inch minimum size, and add a requirement that all shark anglers holding a NMFS Highly Migratory Species permit use non-stainless steel, non-offset circle hooks wherever they fish for sharks. Currently, such circle hook use isn’t required north of 41. 43’ North latitude, roughly the “elbow” of Cape Cod, in order to minimize release mortality of the federally-threatened dusky shark.
As is the case with the commercial alternatives, non-preferred recreational alternatives range from no action to a complete prohibition on harvest. Many of the non-preferred alternatives propose different minimum sizes, some of which would change according to season. Another would require anglers to have a tag, which would be issued in limited numbers, which would have to be affixed to any shortfin mako retained.
NMFS also considered enhanced reporting of commercial and recreational shortfin mako landings (and, in the case of recreational fishermen, also of mako releases). However, the preferred alternative ultimately rejected any such reporting measures.
The final issue involved the manner in which NMFS would approach shortfin mako management. Non-preferred alternatives included taking no action, and acting unilaterally, creating an independent rebuilding plan. However, because shortfin makos frequently cross international boundaries and are caught by vessels registered in many different nations, the preferred alternative calls for the United States taking “preliminary action toward rebuilding by adopting measures to end overfishing to establish a foundation for a rebuilding plan. NMFS would then take action at the international level through ICCAT to develop a rebuilding plan for shortfin mako sharks.” ICCAT is expected to establish such plan next year.
Shortfin mako sharks are actively pursued by recreational shark fishermen throughout the New England and the Mid-Atlantic regions. Thus, we strongly suggest that anglers click on this link to the NMFS website, take a look at the proposed alternatives, and provide comments before the October 1 deadline.
Anglers may also attend hearings on the Draft Regulations, which will be held at the following locations:
- Linwood Public Library, 301 Davis Avenue, Linwood, New Jersey at 5:00 p.m. on August 23;
- Commissioners’ Meeting Room, Dare County Administration Building, 954 Marshall C. Collins Drive, Manteo, North Carolina at 5:00 p.m. on August 28;
- NCDMF Central District Office, 5285 Highway 70 West, Morehead City, North Carolina at 5:00 p.m. on August 29; and
- NOAA Fisheries, Greater Atlantic Regional Office, 55 Great Republic Drive, Gloucester, Massachusetts at 5:00 p.m. on August 30.
There will also be a conference call public hearing, which will require prior registration, beginning at 2:00 on September 12.