Sleek, strong, fast, beautiful and … overfished; unfortunately, these are all words that describe the shortfin mako shark (Isurus oxyrinchus). Fortunately, there are steps you can take to help rebuild the North Atlantic stock of this iconic species.
In general, sharks are highly migratory species (HMS) that travel vast expanses of the ocean, and this tendency to move back and forth across state and regional boundaries complicates their management. As a result, sharks and other HMS (tunas, swordfish, billfish) are managed by NOAA Fisheries rather than regional councils like the Gulf of Mexico Fishery Management Council.
Furthermore, many HMS also cross international boundaries; for example, shortfin mako sharks tagged in the northern Gulf of Mexico move freely between the US, Mexico and Cuba. To properly manage these species requires international collaboration. In the case of HMS in the Gulf of Mexico, this happens at the annual meeting of the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT).
Shortfin mako sharks are a valuable component of U.S. commercial and recreational shark fisheries; however, the 2017 ICCAT stock assessment concluded that shortfin mako sharks are overfished (i.e. their population level is too low) with overfishing occurring (i.e the rate of removal is too high). Preventing further population declines requires immediate management actions.
In accordance with the outcome of the ICCAT stock assessment, NOAA Fisheries implemented an emergency rule on March 2, 2018. This emergency rule outlines both commercial and recreational measures to address overfishing and help rebuild the North Atlantic shortfin mako shark stock. The emergency rule will take effect for 180 days while NOAA Fisheries develops Amendment 11 to the 2006 Consolidated HMS Fishery Management Plan. Given the dynamics of the shortfin mako shark fishery, Amendment 11 proposes a range of commercial and recreational management options.
For commercial harvest of shortfin mako shark, several alternatives are proposed, including live release, gear restrictions, minimum sizes, creation of a specific shortfin mako shark quota and limiting retention to trips where NOAA observers are on board.
Similar options are proposed for recreational harvest of shortfin mako shark, including mandatory catch and release, increasing the minimum size, restricting retention to HMS tournaments, establishing a lottery to land shortfin mako shark, requiring circle hooks and establishing variable in-season minimum sizes.
Let your voices be heard! NOAA Fisheries is requesting public comment on the range of management strategies offered in Amendment 11. For more information, or to submit comments, click here before May 7, 2018. Following the public comment period, NOAA Fisheries will publish a proposed rule, which will be evaluated at the November 2018 ICCAT meeting.