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Act Now

“Depredation” US Representatives Introduce SHARKED Act

At the appeal of recreational fishing group lobbies bemoaning the loss of their intended catch to sharks, legislators from Virginia, Florida, Louisiana and Texas have introduced a bill that claims to support research on USA shark populations. However, without any scientific merit or credible support, the SHARKED Act language is a thinly veiled approach to open fishing on protected species and greenlight shark culls, tournaments and sportfishing for sharks in US waters.

On June 13th, Representatives Rob Wittman (VA-01), Darren Soto (FL-09), Garret Graves (LA-06), and Marc Veasey (TX-33) introduced the Supporting the Health of Aquatic systems through Research, Knowledge, and Enhanced Dialogue (SHARKED) Act. The SHARKED Act will establish a task force to work with fisheries management groups to address the problems posed by increased shark depredation and identify research and funding opportunities for improving the current conditions of shark depredation. The Bill, HR 4051, has been entered and heard in the the Committee on Natural Resources, Subcommittee on Water, Wildlife and Fisheries in July 2023.

Tell the House Subcommittee on Water, Wildlife and Fisheries to Base Funding Decisions on Science and Management, Not Emotion.

A Shark Biting a Fish is Predation, Depredation is a Misnomer

Depredation – an act of attacking or plundering.

The Oxford Dictionary

The emphasis of the bill sponsors on depredation, in this case when a shark bites a fish on an angler’s line not yet landed, is misleading and a misnomer. Wildlife management agencies primarily use the word depredation for instances where a wild predator attacks or preys upon a domestic animal, such as a family pet or livestock. Biting or consuming a struggling fish is an act of a predator consuming a prey, not an attack or preying upon domestic wildlife. A shark’s natural behavior is to feed on sick or injured prey, thereby increasing the evolutionary fitness of prey populations overall. A fisherman reeling in a struggling fish on an invisible line is a human artifact, and serves as an attractant to a shark’s natural behavior. The fish bitten by sharks on a fisherman’s line are struggling and vulnerable to predators. Thus, the vernacular more accurately should be shark predation.

The SHARKED Act sponsors widely represent the fishing industry including fishing guides and tournament organizers, who decry the partial, or loss of their catch to a shark. The evidence that there is an increase in shark’s taking fish is anecdotal and not quantified. Although phrased to create a task force to work with fisheries management groups (implying regulatory agencies), the language of the bill is angled towards reducing the so-called depredation by sharks on catch, which infers killing sharks to reduce the so-called depredation.

The impetus for this bill is driven largely by a limited group of stakeholders economically benefitting from fishing, and by increased media and social media attention on the loss of angler’s fish to sharks, implying a sudden growth in shark populations. Fishermen online and in newcasts (and in the bill author’s press release below), are claiming that shark populations are exploding and need to be culled. Aside from white sharks, that have been protected since 1997 and are experiencing a population increase, claims that increasing shark populations correlated with an increase on fish-take is not scientifically justified.

Open Season on Makos and White Sharks?

A focus by Representative Wittman on Shortfin Mako (Isurus oxyrinchus) in the first hearing strongly points to stakeholder interest to open fishing on this coveted sports fish. Shortfin mako are considered Endangered by the IUCN, a threatened species in the Eastern Atlantic, and closed to East Coast US anglers to rebuild the stock July 2022). Some social media sites and fishboards are promoting fishing protected white sharks, or culling the population, despite scientific assessment that this species is still recovering after severe population decline due to overfishing. As juveniles, white sharks consume stingrays and other bony fish, and as adults, primarily marine mammals. In this case, although widely amplified in social media, the loss of of sport’s fishermen’s catch to white sharks is rare or on pelagic species like yellowfin tuna, and negligible.

A northward, and inshore shift in shark and prey species range associated with sea surface temperatures has been observed in the past few years, possibly resulting in more nearshore anglers losing their catch. This could be an anomaly, or a trend correlated with climate change. If the latter, then more caution should be practiced when discussing any focus on increasing shark extraction, because these long term climate impacts may predict increasing threat to prey, habitat and shark populations.

Overfishing is the most significant threat facing sharks and rays. Oceanic sharks and rays have declined by 71% since 1970, and three-quarters of these wide-ranging species are threatened (1). Half of coastal sharks and rays (51%, 296 of 582 species) are threatened with extinction primarily due to overfishing based on the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species criteria (2). A study of 26 wide-ranging coastal sharks and rays IUCN Red List status in the Northwest to the Southwest Atlantic shark, showed that extinction risk increased with fishing pressure. However, the study concludes that the risk is offset by the strength of management (National Plan of Action for sharks and rays).(3)

In 2022, the Florida National Marine Fisheries provided grants to two Florida Universities, to study shark- angler interactions and develop recommendations for fishermen to reduce the impacts of sharks on catch rates. Another 2022 study surveyed anglers and guides response to shark depredation in recreational fisheries. Most of the response was from anglers in the SE region (Florida), and the group most responding negatively to shark predation on catch in the survey was the guiding community, with claims of lost income.

The NMFS and Casselbury propose discussing altering human behavior and fishing practices to reduce shark predation of catch, and do not recommend increased shark fishing. Lawmakers must consider the best available science, and the SHARKED Act, if administered properly could provide better data for better management decisions. The SHARKED Act, if applied through science and not emotion, or response to short term economic benefit of a small stakeholder group, could benefit fisheries and sharks in the long term. However, it is widely recognized that a population estimate of most of the nearshore species of sharks is absent, and thus managers lack data for best management decisions.

Prior to the 1990s, sharks were considered an underutilized resource, and fisheries managers encouraged and incentivized commercial and recreational fishers to fish for sharks, resulting in severe depletion of some large coastal sharks. A National or Regional Plan of Action for sharks and rays, (POA) has been developed to evaluate fisheries and impacts on vulnerable species. These plans are designed to address the aims for sustainable fisheries and conservation that consider sustainability, threat assessment and protection of threatened species, effective consultation between different stakeholders, protection of the ecosystem and its functions, and improved monitoring and reporting of catch, landings, and trade. As of 2021, only 3% (43 of the 1,199) of all chondrichthyan species have a formal stock assessment. Additionally, threatened species protections, when in place, are often not enforced. We would support additional funding that would augment stock assessment and risk under a POA.

We encourage US Representatives of coastal communities in the Atlantic and Pacific, and specifically the House Subcommittee on Water, Wildlife and Fisheries when considering a task force under the SHARKED Act, to include the scientific and conservation community in all US waters to support research, balancing sound science and conservation.

June 13th, 2023 Press Release from Representative Rob Wittman.


WASHINGTON, D.C. – This week, Representatives Rob Wittman (VA-01), Darren Soto (FL-09), Garret Graves (LA-06), and Marc Veasey (TX-33) introduced the Supporting the Health of Aquatic systems through Research, Knowledge, and Enhanced Dialogue (SHARKED) Act. The SHARKED Act will establish a task force to work with fisheries management groups to address the problems posed by increased shark depredation and identify research and funding opportunities for improving the current conditions of shark depredation.

“As a lifelong fisherman, I’ve experienced firsthand the impacts of shark depredation and have witnessed its effect on our marine ecosystem,” said Congressman Wittman. “I introduced the SHARKED Act to improve the environment of our marine life and sportfishing conditions for anglers while protecting sharks from unsafe conditions and food sources. The SHARKED Act will also serve as the first major step in addressing shark depredation nationwide. I’m proud to have my colleagues on both sides of the aisle join me in this important effort and lead the way for restoring our marine ecosystem and improving fishing experiences for anglers.”

“We must act now to help recreational anglers and commercial fishermen across Florida and the U.S. who are reporting an increase in shark depredation — a phenomenon that negatively impacts fishing experiences, threatens the safety of sharks and humans, and hurts the sustainability of targeted fish populations,” Congressman Soto said. “That is why I am proud to co-introduce the Supporting the Health of Aquatic Systems through Research Knowledge and Enhanced Dialogue Act  (SHARKED) Act, a bill that will direct the Department of Commerce to establish a task force to combat shark depredation and help Florida fishermen while protecting the future of the fishing industry and our marine ecosystems.”

“It’s becoming way too common for Louisiana’s anglers to reel in a hooked red snapper only to realize it’s been chomped in half by sharks. We already pay too much in taxes – the tax collector taking more off the top is salt in the wound,” Congressman Graves said. “The SHARKED Act will bring in experts to better understand these populations and unusual animal behaviors and help us keep more of our catch.”

Supporting organizations: American Fisheries Society, American Sportfishing Association, Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies, BoatUS, Bonefish & Tarpon Trust, Center for Sportfishing Policy, Coastal Conservation Association, Congressional Sportsmen’s Foundation, Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission, Guy Harvey Foundation, International Game Fish Association, Marine Retailers Association of the Americas, National Marine Manufacturers Association, National Professional Anglers Association, and Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership. 

Citations

Half a century of global decline in oceanic sharks and rays. N. Pacoureau et al., Nature 589, 567–571 (2021).

Overfishing drives over one-third of all sharks and rays toward a global extinction crisis. N. K. Dulvy et al., Curr. Biol. 31, 4773–4787.e8 (2021).

Conservation successes and challenges for wide-ranging sharks and rays
Nathan Pacoureau, John K. Carlson, Holly K. Kindsvater, +13, and Nicholas K. Dulvy
PNAS January 23, 2023 https://doi.org/10.1073/pnas.2216891120


When fishing bites: Understanding angler responses to shark depredation
, Grace A. Casselberry, Ezra M. Markowitz, Kelly Alves, Joseph Dello Russo, Gregory B. Skomal, Andy J. Danylchuk,
Fisheries Research, Volume 246, 2022, 106174, ISSN 0165-7836,
https://doi.org/10.1016/j.fishres.2021.106174 (https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0165783621003027)

RAM Legacy Stock Assessment Database, RAM Legacy Stock Assessment Database v4.495 (v4.495) (2021). https:/doi.org/10.5281/zenodo.4824192. (April 1, 2022).

W. S. Otwell et al., “Manual on shark fishing: A compilation of papers” (Sea Grant Project No. SGEP-7, Grant No. NA80AA-D-00038, Sea Grant Report No. 73, Florida Sea Grant College. 44, 1985).

J. A. Musick, S. Branstetter, J. A. Colvocoresses, “Trends in shark abundance from 1974 to 1991 for the Chesapeake Bight region of the US Mid-Atlantic coast” in Conservation Biology of Elasmobranchs (National Marine Fisheries Service, 1993), pp. 1–18.