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January 21, 2010

The HSUS Petitions Fisheries Service to List Overfished Porbeagle Sharks as an Endangered Species

WASHINGTON — On Thursday, The Humane Society of the United States asked the National Marine Fisheries Service to list porbeagle sharks in the northwest Atlantic as endangered under the federal Endangered Species Act.

Porbeagle sharks have lost up to 90 percent of their population during the past 40 years. The Fisheries Service currently acknowledges porbeagles are a "Species of Concern" due to their diminished population status, and the species has been deemed overfished. Yet the Fisheries Service still allows U.S. fishermen to catch of 11.3 tons of porbeagle sharks each year. Porbeagles are also targeted in gruesome recreational shark fishing (kill) tournaments along the Northeast coast.

The HSUS' petition to list the shark cites numerous conclusions by international bodies that unregulated fishing and uncertainties about the reproductive capacity of porbeagles may be leading to continued declines, particularly in mature females, who are larger and a preferred target for fishermen.

"Birds and mammals sustaining similar losses in population have been protected under the Endangered Species Act, and we need to extend that same protection to one of the ocean's most ancient and magnificent animals before it's too late," said John Grandy, Ph.D, senior vice president of Wildlife and Habitat for The HSUS.  "This beleaguered shark is an unfortunate example of the tragedy of the commons. It is imperiled by many forces and many nations and no one is stepping up to protect it."

Endangered status would prohibit fishing for porbeagle sharks and also prohibit importation of the sharks into the United States. The United States currently serves as a major market for the species.

Facts

  • Porbeagles are a cold-water shark. Those along the United States East Coast range seasonally from waters along Canada and New York where they are caught in commercial fisheries and in shark tournaments.
  • Porbeagles are a long-lived, slow-maturing fish. Females take 13 years to reach sexual maturity and can live 45 years. They spawn every one to two years, giving live birth to an average litter of four pups. They may grow to a length of more than 11 feet.
  • In 2004, a Canadian review of porbeagles recommended that Canada list the species as endangered under their Species at Risk Act (similar to the U.S. Endangered Species Act). The Canadian government declined to list them on the grounds of economic impact. In contrast, the U.S. Endangered Species Act only allows the United States government to consider science in making a listing decision; the Fisheries Service is prohibited from considering economics.
  • Porbeagles in the northwest Atlantic are listed as endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature and have been proposed for additional protection under the multinational Convention on the Trade in Endangered Species.

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The Humane Society of the United States is the nation's largest animal protection organization — backed by 11 million Americans, or one of every 28. For more than a half-century, The HSUS has been fighting for the protection of all animals through advocacy, education and hands-on programs. Celebrating animals and confronting cruelty — On the web at humanesociety.org. 

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