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During “Shark Week,” The Humane Society of the United States Files Lawsuits to Protect Imperiled Porbeagle Sharks

The Humane Society of the United States filed litigation in federal court seeking to increase protection for the porbeagle shark, a species that has lost 80 percent of its population as a result of overfishing. The lawsuits challenge the National Marine Fisheries Service’s denial of two HSUS petitions to protect the species — first under the Endangered Species Act and second under the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act.

The porbeagle shark is among the most vulnerable shark species in the world, and the Northwest Atlantic population, which lives off the east coast of the United States and Canada, has suffered a fishing-related decline of 90 percent in the past 50 years. Current federal fisheries management measures are inadequate to prevent continued depletion of porbeagle sharks – NMFS does not even track all porbeagle mortalities.

“Porbeagles are not only caught by commercial fisheries, but they are the targets of shark tournaments, where participants are encouraged to catch them and are awarded prizes for killing the biggest sharks,” said Sharon Young, marine issues field director for HSUS. “Sharks are some of the most ancient and amazing of ocean creatures. When so many Americans are celebrating sharks and learning about the need to conserve them, it is shameful that the federal government is playing roulette with their survival.”

Last year, HSUS petitioned NMFS to list porbeagle sharks as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act, to insure survival of this fragile species. HSUS also petitioned the agency to list the porbeagle as a prohibited shark species under the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, which would require fishermen to immediately release them unharmed. It is denial of these two petitions that HSUS is challenging in the litigation.


  • On Jan. 21, 2010, HSUS submitted a petition to NMFS to list the Northwest Atlantic population segment of porbeagle sharks (Lamna nasus) as threatened or endangered under the Endangered Species Act. On July 12, 2010, NMFS denied the petition.
  • On Feb. 16, 2010 the HSUS petitioned to list porbeagle sharks (Lamna nasus) as a “prohibited shark species” in implementing regulations for the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act. On Feb. 10, 2011, NMFS sent a letter to HSUS admitting that porbeagles met the criteria for listing them as “prohibited” but stated that they were choosing not to list them.
  • Some recreational fishing tournaments in the North Atlantic region of the United States offer prizes for the largest porbeagle sharks caught. To kill them, sharks are often dragged behind fishing boats and drown. Additionally, up to 73 million sharks are killed worldwide each year in commercial fisheries, mostly for their fins to be used in shark fin soup.
  • Last year, Congress passed and President Obama signed into law the Shark Conservation Act, which strengthens the federal law to combat shark finning at sea, and requires sharks to be landed with their fins still attached. This year, Oregon and Washington passed state laws to ban the sale and possession of shark fin products, following Hawaii which did the same last year. A similar bill is pending in the California legislature.  
  • In 2010, the United States government supported a multi-national attempt to limit international trade in porbeagles, citing their precarious status.
  • The Shark Free Marina Initiative is a project of the Humane Society of the United States that enlists the support of fishermen, marinas and businesses in prohibiting and discouraging the recreational killing of sharks. See humanesociety.org/issues/ shark_tournaments/facts/shark_free_marinas.html


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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.