AC19 Doc. 18. 1 Convention on international trade in endangered species

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AC19 Doc. 18.1



Nineteenth meeting of the Animals Committee

Geneva (Switzerland), 18-21 August 2003

Biological and Trade Status of Sharks



1. This document has been prepared by the United States of America.

2. At the 12th meeting of the Conference of the Parties (CoP12) in November 2002, Parties adopted Decision 12.49 as follows:

The Secretariat shall encourage CITES authorities of Parties to obtain information on IPOA-Sharks implementation from their national fisheries departments and report on progress at future meetings of the Animals Committee.

3. Accordingly, the Scientific Authority of the United States of America contacted the United States National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) for updated information on the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) International Plan of Action for the Conservation and Management of Sharks (IPOA-Sharks). Attached is the most recent NMFS report to our legislature on this subject. It details the progress made by the United States of America in developing and implementing the IPOA-Sharks. This report was also submitted to FAO as an official United States update on the matter.

AC19 Doc. 18.1
(English only/ Seulement en anglais / Únicamente en inglés)

Report to Congress Pursuant to the

Shark Finning Prohibition Act of 2000

(Public Law 106-557)

Prepared by the National Marine Fisheries Service

December 2002

Table of Contents

1. Introduction

1.1 Management Authority in the United States

1.2 Current Management of Sharks in the Atlantic Ocean

1.3 Current Management of Sharks in the Pacific Ocean

1.4 U.S. Regulations to Implement the Shark Finning Prohibition Act

1.5 NOAA Fisheries Enforcement Actions Pertaining to the Shark Finning Prohibition Act

2. U.S. Imports and Exports of Shark Fins and Enforcement of the Shark Finning Prohibition Act

2.1 Exports of Shark Fins

2.2 Imports of Shark Fins

3. International Efforts to Advance the Goals of the Shark Finning Prohibition Act

3.1 Bilateral Efforts

3.2 Regional Efforts

3.2.1 Northwest Atlantic Fisheries Organization (NAFO)

3.2.2 Inter-American Tropical Tunas Commission (IATTC)

3.2.3 International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT)

3.2.4 Multilateral High-Level Conference on the Conservation and Management of Highly Migratory Fish Stocks in the Western and Central Pacific (MHLC)

3.2.5 South Pacific Tunas Treaty (SPTT)

3.2.6 International Council for the Exploration of the Seas (ICES)

3.2.7 Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) and the Convention on Migratory Species

3.2.8 North Pacific Interim Scientific Committee for Tuna and Tuna-like Species (ISC)

3.2.9 Sub-Saharan Africa

3.2.10 Department of State's Regional Environmental Hub Program

3.3 Multilateral Efforts

3.3.1 Food and Agriculture Organizations of the United Nations (FAO), Committee on Fisheries (COFI)

3.3.2 International Union for the Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources (IUCN)

3.3.3 Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna (CITES)

4. National Marine Fisheries Service Research on Sharks

4.1 Data Collection and Stock Assessments

4.2 Incidental Catch Reduction

4.3 Post-Release Survival

4.4 Education and Outreach

4.5 Fishing Capacity

5. Conclusion

1. Introduction

Sharks are fish in the class Chondrichthyes, or cartilaginous fishes. As a group, sharks (and other elasmobranchs, such as skates and rays) present an array of issues and challenges for fisheries management and conservation. They are generally at the top of the food chain and their abundance is relatively small compared to groups at lower trophic levels. They are often characterized by late age of maturity and relatively slow growth and reproductive rates. Historically, compared to many bony fishes, sharks have had relatively low economic value, and thus have been a lesser priority for fisheries research and management.

In recent years, however, there has been increasing concern about the status of shark stocks and the sustainability of their exploitation in world fisheries. As the commercial value of some species and/or shark products has grown, there have been increased international fishing efforts directed at sharks and there is increasing evidence of overfishing. In turn, several international initiatives have been undertaken to promote greater understanding of sharks in the ecosystem and greater efforts to conserve the many species taken in world fisheries.

On December 21, 2000, President Clinton signed into law the Shark Finning Prohibition Act (Act). Section 3 of the Act amended the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (Magnuson-Stevens Act) to prohibit any person under U.S. jurisdiction from (i) engaging in the finning of sharks; (ii) possessing shark fins aboard a fishing vessel without the corresponding carcass; and (iii) landing shark fins without the corresponding carcass. Section 9 of the Act defines finning as the practice of taking a shark, removing the fin or fins from a shark, and returning the remainder of the shark to the sea. The Act also requires the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) to promulgate regulations to implement the prohibitions of the Act (Section 4), initiate discussion with other nations to develop international agreements on shark finning and data collection (Section 5), provide Congress with annual reports describing efforts to carry out the Act (Section 6), and establish research programs (Sections 7 and 8). This Report to Congress fulfills the requirements of Section 6 and provides a description of NMFS activities relative to other sections of the Act.

1.1 Management Authority in the United States

The Magnuson-Stevens Act is the primary domestic legislation governing management of marine fisheries in the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone (EEZ). The Magnuson-Stevens Act calls for the conservation and management of resources and the marine environment, of which sharks, skates and rays (also called elasmobranchs) are a part. In 1996, the U.S. Congress re-authorized the Magnuson-Stevens Act and included new provisions that require fishery managers to halt overfishing; rebuild overfished fisheries; minimize bycatch and bycatch mortality to the extent practicable; and describe, identify, and conserve essential fish habitat (EFH). In addition, Federal fisheries management must also be consistent with the requirements of other legislation including the Marine Mammal Protection Act, the Endangered Species Act (ESA), the National Environmental Policy Act, the Regulatory Flexibility Act, the Paperwork Reduction Act, the Coastal Zone Management Act, the High Seas Compliance Act, the Administrative Procedures Act, and other relevant Federal and State laws.

In general, waters under the jurisdiction of the individual states extend from the shoreline out to 3 miles (9 nautical miles off Texas, the west coast of Florida, and Puerto Rico), while U.S. waters under Federal management continue from the outer edge of state waters to 200 miles offshore except where intercepted by the EEZ of another nation but can extend into the high seas as with pelagic fisheries. Management of elasmobranchs in state waters usually falls under the authority of state regulatory agencies, which are typically the marine division of the state fish and wildlife departments. Each state develops and enforces its own fishing regulations for waters under its jurisdiction. Many times these state regulations complement, or are more restrictive than, Federal regulations that address shark fishing in the EEZ. However, federally permitted commercial fishermen in the Atlantic are required to follow Federal regulations regardless of where they are fishing as a condition of the permit, unless the state's requirements are more restrictive. Given that many shark nursery areas are located in waters under state jurisdiction, states play a critical role in effective shark conservation and management.

Cooperative management of the fisheries that occur in the jurisdiction of two or more states and Federal waters may be coordinated by an interstate fishery management commission. Three interstate commissions exist: the Pacific States Marine Fisheries Commission (PSMFC), the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission (ASMFC), and the Gulf States Marine Fisheries Commission (GSMFC). While states set fishery regulations in their own waters, they are encouraged to adopt compatible regulations between state and Federal jurisdictions. The Atlantic Coast Fisheries Cooperative Management Act (ACFCMA) established a special management program between NMFS, the Atlantic coast states, and the ASMFC.

In summary, numerous management entities govern fisheries in which sharks are directed catch, incidental catch, and/or bycatch. The Magnuson-Stevens Act forms the basis for management in Federal waters and requires NMFS and the Councils to take specified actions. States agencies and Commissions are bound by state regulations and, in the Atlantic region, by ACFCMA.

1.2 Current Management of Sharks in the Atlantic Ocean

Development of fishery management plans (FMPs) is the responsibility of one or more of the eight regional fishery management councils, except in the case of Atlantic highly migratory species (defined as tunas, marlins, oceanic sharks, sailfish, and swordfish). Since 1990, shark fishery management in Federal waters of the Atlantic Ocean, Gulf of Mexico, and Caribbean Sea (excluding dogfishes, skates, and rays) has been the responsibility of the Secretary of Commerce, delegated to NMFS. Dogfish, skates, and rays in the Atlantic Ocean are managed by the New England Fishery Management Council (NEFMC), the Mid-Atlantic Fishery Management Council (MAFMC), the South Atlantic Fishery Management Council (SAFMC), the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council (GMFMC), or the Caribbean Fishery Management Council (CFMC).

Atlantic sharks have traditionally been separated into three species groups for stock abundance assessments: large coastal sharks (22 species), small coastal sharks (7 species), and pelagic sharks (10 species). The 1999 FMP for Atlantic Tunas, Sharks and Swordfish further divided the large coastal shark group into ridgeback and non-ridgeback species for more effective management, shifted several species from the large coastal sharks, small coastal sharks, and pelagic management sub-units to the prohibited species sub-unit, and established an additional management unit (see Table 1.2). Thirty-three shark species that were previously included only for data reporting are now included in the shark management unit called "Deepwater and Other Sharks."

Finning of large coastal sharks, small coastal sharks, and pelagic sharks has been prohibited for Federal shark permit holders in waters of the Atlantic Ocean, Gulf of Mexico, and Caribbean Sea since 1993. Finning of the "Deepwater and Other Sharks" category was prohibited in the 1999 FMP for Atlantic Tunas, Sharks and Swordfish, and the finning of spiny dogfish in this region was prohibited in 2000.

A Small Coastal Shark Stock Assessment was completed in March 2002 and a Large Coastal Shark Stock Assessment was completed in September 2002. NMFS expects to do a rulemaking soon based on the results of these stock assessments. Information on Atlantic shark fisheries is updated annually in the Stock Assessment and Fishery Evaluation (SAFE) Report for Atlantic Highly Migratory Species (HMS). The Atlantic HMS Management Division maintains a website at This website includes links to current fishery regulations (50 CFR 635), shark landings updates, the U.S. National Plan of Action (NPOA) for Sharks, the Atlantic HMS SAFE Report, and a Brochure for Recreational Shark Fishing.

Table 1.2 Atlantic Sharks in the Management Unit by Species Groups

Prohibited Species

Sand tiger bigeye Odontaspis taurus

Sand tiger Odontaspis noronhai

Whale Rhincodon typus

Basking Cetorhinu's maximus

White Carcharodon carcharias

Dusky Carcharhinus obscurus

Bignose Carcharhinus altimus

Galapagos Carcharhinus galapagensis

Night Carcharhinus signatus

Caribbean reef Carcharhinus perez

Narrowtooth Carcharhinus brachyurus

Caribbean sharpnose Rhizoprionodon porosus

Smalltail Carcharhinus porosus

Atlantic angel Squatina dumerili

Longfin mako Isurus paucus

Bigeye thresher Alopias superciliousus

Sevengill Heptranchias perlo

Sixgill Hexanchus griseus

Bigeye sixgill Hexanchus vitulus

Large Coastal Sharks

(Some species in the large coastal sharks management unit are characterized by a mid-­dorsal ridge that is easily identified even after the fish has been headed, gutted, and finned. This mid-dorsal ridge is useful as a diagnostic characteristic for management and enforcement purposes.)

Ridgeback Species

Sandbar Carcharhinus plumbeus

Silky Carcharhinus falcifonnis

Tiger Galeocerdo cuvieri

Non-Ridgeback Species

Blacktip Carcharhinus limbatus

Spinner Carcharhinus brevipinna

Bull Carcharhinus leucas

Lemon Negaprion brevirostris

Nurse Ginglymostoma cirralum

Scalloped hammerhead Sphyrna lewini

Great hammerhead Sphyrna mokarran

Smooth hammerhead Sphyrna zygaena

Small Coastal Sharks

Atlantic sharpnose Rhizoprionodon terraenovae

Finetooth Carcharhinus isodon

Blacknose Carcharhinus acronotus.

Bonnethead Sphyrna tiburo

Pelagic Sharks

Shortfin mako Isurus oxyrinchus

Porbeagle Lamna nasus

Thresher Alopias vulpinus

Oceanic whitetip Carcharhinus longimanus

Blue Prionace glauca

Deepwater Sharks and Other Species

Iceland cat shark Apristurus laurussoni

Smallfin cat shark Apristurus parvipinnis

Deepwater cat shark Apristurus profundorum

Broadgill cat shark Apristurus riveri

Marbled cat shark Galeus arae

Blotched cat shark Scyliorhinus meadi

Chain dogfish Scyliorhinus retifer

Dwarf cat shark Scyliorhinus torrei

Japanese gulper shark Centrophorus acuus

Gulper shark Centrophorus granulosus

Little gulper shark Centrophorus uyato

Kitefin shark Dalatias Ucha

Flatnose gulper shark Deania profundorum

Portuguese shark Cetrosqymnus coelolepis

Greenland shark Somniosus microcephalus

Lined lanternshark Etmopterus bullisi

Broadband dogfish Etmopterus gracilispinnis

Caribbean lanternshark Etmopterus hillianus

Great lanternshark Elmopterus princeps

Smooth lanternshark Etmopterus pusillus

Fringefin lanternshark Etmopterus schultzi

Green lanternshark Etmopterus virens

Cookiecutter shark Isistius brasiliensis

Bigtooth cookiecutter Isistius plutodus

Smallmouth velvet dogfish Scymnodon obscurus

Pygmy shark Squaliolus laticaudus

Roughskin spiny dogfish Squalus asper

Blainville's dogfish Squalus blainvillei

Cuban dogfish Squalus cubensis

Bramble shark Echinorhinus brucus

American sawshark Pristiophorus schroederi

Florida smoothhound Mustelus norrisi

Smooth dogfish Mustelus canis

1.3 Current Management of Sharks in the Pacific Ocean

In the Pacific, three regional councils are responsible for developing fishery management plans: the Pacific Fishery Management Council (PFMC), the North Pacific Fishery Management Council (NPFMC), and the Western Pacific Fishery Management Council (WPFMC).

The PFMC's area of jurisdiction is the EEZ off the coasts of California, Oregon, and Washington. Development of a Pacific Council HMS FMP is underway. Following completion and hearings on a December 2001 public review draft, the Council instructed the HMS Plan Development Team to complete a decision draft FMP that would address the review comments and associated policy issues. The management unit will include common thresher and shortfin mako, sharks that are targeted in the west coast-based fisheries, as well as blue sharks (a frequently encountered bycatch species) and bigeye and pelagic thresher (incidental catch). The decision draft will include proposals for harvest guidelines for common thresher and shortfin mako. These would be precautionary to prevent localized depletion, which would take a long time to correct given the biological characteristics of the species. Final adoption of the HMS FMP is scheduled for November 2002. Updated information on the FMP is available on the Council's website:

The NPFMC manages fisheries Federal waters off Alaska. Sharks are managed under the “other species” category in the Gulf of Alaska (GOA) Groundfish FMP and the Bering Sea/Aleutian Island (BSAI) Groundfish FMP. “Other species”comprises taxonomic groups that currently are of slight economic value and are not generally targeted. The category includes sharks, sculpins, skates, and octopus (and squid in the GOA). These species have economic potential or are important ecosystem components, but sufficient data are lacking to manage each separately; therefore an aggregate annual quota limits their catch. Accordingly, a single quota applies to this category as a whole. There is currently little, if any, directed fishing on any component of the “other species” category in Alaska. Catch of the whole category must be recorded and reported.

Seven shark species are included in the GOA groundfish management unit, and six are in the BSAI management unit. The three shark species most often encountered in Alaska fisheries are the Pacific sleeper shark, Somniosus pacificus, the piked or spiny dogfish, Squalus acanthias, and the salmon shark, Lamna ditropis. They are taken incidentally in target fisheries for groundfish and are monitored inseason by NMFS. Sharks are the only group in the complex which are consistently identified to species in catches by fishery observers. Most of the shark bycatch occurs in the midwater trawl pollock fishery and in the hook and line fisheries for sablefish, Greenland turbot and Pacific cod along the outer continental shelf and upper slope areas.

Sharks are top predators, so fluctuations in their populations may have significant effects on community structure. Estimates of shark bycatch in the GOA and BSAI groundfish fisheries from 1997-2000 have ranged from 1,040 - 2,390 metric tons (mt) and 370 - 590 mt, respectively. Future catches of sharks are more dependent on the distribution and limitations placed on target fisheries.

Allowable biological catch levels for BSAI sharks are set equal to 75% of the average catch of the complex between 1978-1995 (Tier 6 of the Council’s overfishing level (OFL) criteria). The OFLs are set equal to average catch over the same period. The GOA FMP does not allow for determination of an OFL or ABC for the GOA “other species” category. The complex is managed by a aggregate quota equal to 5% of the combined quotas for GOA target species.

An increasing recognition exists of the need to better understand and manage fishery impacts on species that are not targeted by fisheries since the initial implementation of the FMPs. Managers will be challenged to cultivate a management system that maintains healthy non-target species stocks, protects these species from overfishing, and allows target fisheries for these species to develop only when sufficient information is available to provide sustainable populations, as more emphasis is placed on protecting biodiversity and ecosystem structure and function.

In 1998, the State of Alaska closed directed commercial fishing of sharks and placed a daily sport harvest limit of one shark per day and an annual sport statewide harvest limit of two sharks per year. The state sportfish regulations apply in the EEZ off Alaska, since sport fisheries for “other species” are not currently defined in the FMPs or Federal regulations. Alaska banned shark finning in 2000. The Council has been considering alternatives to manage sharks, and the entire “other species” category as a bycatch, rather than a target category since the state recommended that the Council take complementary action to close directed shark fishing in 1998. Proposed measures previously included a prohibition on finning, but this proposal was superceded by other Federal action. Development of adequate stock assessments for sharks and the remaining groups in the “other species” complex has been hampered by the lack of basic biological information on these species in Alaska waters and has delayed final action.

A large number of other shark species (as well as some rays) are taken in other federally and state-managed fisheries, including leopard, Pacific angel, soupfin and dogfish. Many of these are incidental catch that is retained in setnet fisheries; others are bycatch that are discarded. NMFS and state observer programs have collected or are collecting additional information on these catches and associated landings and possible discard mortality. However, there are few formal control programs in effect at this time. It is noteworthy that state laws essentially prohibit the catch and retention of great white, megamouth and basking sharks (except for scientific collections and displays) due to their special standing and/or depressed stock status.

Table 1.3 Shark Species Included as Pelagic Management Unit Species

Common Name

Scientific Name

Blue shark

Prionace glauca

Shortfin mako shark

Isurus oxyrinchus

Longfin mako shark

Isurus paucus

Oceanic white tip shark

Carcharhinus longimanus

Tiger shark

Galeocerdo cuvier

Common thresher shark

Alopias vulpinu

Pelagic thresher shark

Alopias pelagicus

Bigeye thresher shark


Silky shark

Carcharhinus falciformis

Salmon shark

Lamna ditropis

1.4 U.S. Regulations to Implement the Shark Finning Prohibition Act

On June 28, 2001, NMFS published a proposed rule to implement the Shark Finning Prohibition Act of 2000 [66 FR 34401 ]. This rule proposed the prohibition of: (1) any person on a U.S. fishing vessel from engaging in shark finning in waters seaward of the inner boundary of the U.S. exclusive economic zone (EEZ); however, U.S. fishermen would not be prohibited from removing and retaining fins from a shark, provided the corresponding carcass is retained on board the vessel; (2) any person on a U.S. fishing vessel from possessing shark fins harvested in waters seaward of the inner boundary of the U.S. EEZ on board a fishing vessel without corresponding shark carcasses; (3) any person on a U.S. vessel from landing shark fins harvested in waters seaward of the inner boundary of the U.S. EEZ without corresponding carcasses; and (4) any person on a foreign fishing vessel from engaging in finning in the U.S. EEZ and from landing shark fins in or inside the U.S. EEZ without the corresponding carcass. In addition, the rule proposed a requirement that all shark fins and carcasses be landed and weighed at the same time, once landing of shark fins and/or shark carcasses has begun. The prohibition on landing shark fins without the carcasses extends to any vessel (including a cargo or shipping vessel) that obtained those fins from another vessel at sea.

NMFS held two public hearings and considered all public comments, on the proposed rule. NMFS specifically requested advice on two matters: whether the prohibitions in the Act should be applied in State waters, and whether or how to define "wet" weight in considering whether sharks fins are being landed in excess of the allowable amount, relative to shark carcasses. Responses to public comments are provided in the preamble to the final rule. The final regulations were published on February 11, 2002. This document is available on the Office of the Federal Register's website at 

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