NOAA Fisheries announced today it will do a deep dive into the question of whether the tope shark warrants protection under the Endangered Species Act.
Responding to a petition from the Center for Biological Diversity and allied organizations, the agency said its initial 90-day assessment found “substantial scientific or commercial information” indicating that listing the species under the ESA could be warranted. A more in-depth, 12-month study will get underway.
“The petition presents information and references indicating that the tope shark has declined in most parts of its range, and that these declines have been driven by overharvest for commercial purposes,” NOAA Fisheries stated.
The agency cited estimates “in many parts of the range, [including the] Southwest Atlantic, southern Africa, Australia, and Northeast Atlantic, and an estimated median reduction of 88 percent for the global population over three generations.”
The listing petition was filed in February 2022 by the Center for Biological Diversity and the Defend Them All Foundation.
“This is an important first step toward providing tope sharks with the protections they need to prevent their extinction, but federal officials have to move quickly,” said Kristin Carden, a scientist at the Center for Biological Diversity. “For too long, tope sharks have been targeted for their fins and caught as bycatch in other fisheries. We need to stop the incredibly disturbing plunge in their population, and the Endangered Species Act could safeguard nearshore habitats.”
NOAA Fisheries notes that tope sharks have been fished commercially, typically with gillnets and longlines, throughout most of their range for meat, fins and livers, which are rich in vitamin A.
“Demand for the liver oil in particular led to relatively intense commercial harvest of tope sharks during the 1930s and 1940s in several parts of its range, including the Northeast Pacific, Southwest Atlantic, South Africa, Australia, and New Zealand,” the agency said. “This period of increased fishing pressure subsided fairly quickly, however, as the demand for shark liver oil declined and, in some locations, as stocks were depleted.”
The agency added that “information presented in the petition and cited references regarding ongoing commercial fishing for and retention of tope sharks in other parts of the range do suggest cause for concern.”