Conservationists urge U.S. to protect impacted tope shark
An Oregon group has joined a petition to get a shark listed as an endangered species.
The Portland-based group, Defend Them All, and the Center for Biological Diversity in Tucson, have submitted a petition to the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS). They want the tope shark – also known as the soupfin shark – protected along the Oregon, Washington, and California coasts. They say the tope shark never recovered from heavy fishing in the 1900s, losing 88 percent of their population over nearly eight decades.
“Sharks are essential to a healthy ecosystem in the ocean,” said Lindsey Zehel, executive director for the Defend Them All Foundation. “It will have detrimental effects and a cascading downward spiral for ocean ecosystems everywhere, if the loss of predatory species like sharks become a reality.”
Tope sharks are found in shallow, temperate waters worldwide. While little threat to people, they’ve been targeted for their liver oil, meat, and fins.
Zehel added the species has been the victim of unsustainable fishing practices across the world.
“We’ve had campaigns that ban sharkfinning. People are generally aware these days about the impacts of that practice on a species. But it’s not just the fishing that’s the problem. There’s contaminants in our waters, habitat destruction up and down the coast. The species is in real trouble and they’re not alone.”
Tope sharks frequent shallow, temperate waters in areas that include the West Coast. Proponents for getting them protected under the Endangered Species Act say sharks off of Southern California have a high risk of bycatch and getting tangled in Mexico’s gillnets.
The petition also asks for critical habitat to be designated so the tope shark can safely breed and recover.
In a joint release issued by Defend Them All, and the Center for Biological Diversity, the groups say the International Union for the Conservation of Nature already has the tope shark categorized as critically endangered, due to commercial overfishing.
The tope shark is long and slender, reaching up to 6 and a half feet long and nearly 100 lbs. The sharks can live up to 60 years and have late maturity — on average at 12.5 years. It is also sometimes referred to as the school shark or snapper shark.
In response to KLCC’s inquiry about the timeline for the petition process, Zehel responded: “Our Petition sets in motion a specific process, requiring NMFS to make an initial finding as to whether the Petition ‘presents substantial scientific or commercial information indicating that the petitioned action may be warranted.’ NMFS must make this initial finding to the maximum extent practicable, within 90 days after receiving the petition. A 'positive' 90-day finding will lead to a status review and a determination of whether the species will be listed, to be completed within twelve months.”
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