NOAA 2001-110
Contact: Susan Buchanan

Independent Panel Finds More Data Needed

In response to an independent review of the National Marine Fisheries Service's shark quota management program, the agency will update its assessment approach to include a more comprehensive review of stock data. The independent review released today concludes that the data and analyses used in formulating management decisions for the Atlantic shark fishery need to be refined to better assess trends in shark populations. The review is an outcome of a court-approved settlement agreement between NOAA fisheries and the Southern Offshore Fishing Association, a longline commercial fishermen's group.

"The independent reviews give us guidance on how to further strengthen our understanding of sharks," said Bill Hogarth, NOAA fisheries director. "This agreement between the federal government and the commercial fishermen is a positive step towards improving the science underlying our management of this important fishery. Fishermen and the fish will both benefit in the long run."

Based on the reviewers' comments, the next assessment will reconsider the reliability of effort data, life history characteristics and migration patterns into and from other countries' fishing waters.

As part of a court agreement between NOAA fisheries and the commercial shark fishermen, the 1997 quota has remained in effect based on a 1996 assessment that will continue until a new stock assessment is completed next year. That assessment had determined that a 50 percent reduction in fishing mortality was needed to halt overfishing and maintain shark populations. The 1997 quota included that reduction.

Sharks are difficult to manage because of their biology, their life history and the number of species. Generally, they are long-lived, late-maturing and produce few numbers of pups per brood. Since many species are highly migratory fish, they cross management jurisdictions, which requires focused collaboration by state and federal management agencies.

Because sharks have long life expectancies, collecting data on all life stages of all species is a lengthy process. Similarly, it takes many years for fishing and management effects on shark populations to produce useable data for managers to examine. Due to this time lapse in data, there is a degree of uncertainty about the current stock status. Despite this uncertainty, NOAA fisheries is mandated under the Sustainable Fisheries Act to take a precautionary approach in managing shark species and implement its rebuilding plan for sharks.

"We look forward to the outcome of the next assessment, which will help us move forward with sound management, based on improved data and analyses," Hogarth said.

NOAA fisheries, an agency of the Commerce Department's National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, is dedicated to protecting and preserving our nation's living marine resources through scientific research, management, enforcement, and the conservation of marine mammals and other protected marine species and their habitat.

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