Tuesday, June 30, 2009

An Update from Samuel Gruber and Lemon Sharks in Florida

Lemon Shark - Photo by: Wolf Leander

As per Samuel Gruber:

Dear All: Herewith is a summary version of the recent meeting in Fort Lauderdale where we presented testimony to the FWC. As Bill said, we have to keep up efforts as we move strongly in the conservation arena. Out goal will be to get the lemon shark on the prohibited list or at the very least extend its closed season. We will need to convince both the Florida Wildlife Commission and the National Marine Fisheries Commission and this will take data, effort and time as well as funding to get the job done. There are funding agencies in interested in helping us attain this goal.

Changes to Current Shark Fishing Rules on the Horizon--Our effort to get Florida’s

Lemon Shark, Negaprion brevirostris protected by the FWC

Walt Sterns and Samuel H. Gruber

Last week we attended one of five Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) public workshops held this month to receive comments on a plan to bring he Florida’s shark regulations into agreement with the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission's (ASMFC) Interstate Fishery Management Plan for Atlantic Coastal Sharks.

Attending last night’s meeting, held at International Game Fish Association headquarters in Ft. Lauderdale was Gary and Brenda Adkison for the Shark Foundation, Steve Stock for the Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation, Drs. Samuel Gruber and Bryan Franks for the Bimini Biological Field Station, Bill Parks for the Christine Baltzer Parks Environmental Foundation and members of Reef Rescue, a few dive operation representatives, some university graduate students and Walt Sterns, senior author of this report.

The series of meetings was to record public comment on various options for amending its shark management rules (68B-44, F.A.C.), with the possibility to modify them to comply with or go beyond the ASMFC shark management plan.

According to the introduction by FWC’s staff, the ASMFC’s management plan sharks includes a minimum size limit of 54” (4.5 feet)/137.2 cm, measured tip of nose to fork of the tail; a bag limit for lemon, bull, sandbar, dusky, hammerhead, tiger, etc., and other caveats designed to "achieve conformity" with the regulations agreed upon by the ASMFC.

Public comments were generally in agreement that instituting a blanket, minimum size limit (54”) without taking into account that species’ natural history, would be counterproductive and not protect or benefit the conservation and management of sharks.

Several informed comments were presented, based on the life history strategy of the large coastal species suggesting that it is more important to protect the young breeders than the juveniles. Thus the commercial and recreational take should reflect a minimum size that excludes sharks in their first years of maturity. Such a regulation will protect both the juveniles and first breeders. In the lemon shark, this is about 74” or 190 cm fork length. Other problems for large coastal shark include development or destruction of coastal nursery habitats required for juvenile development.

More specifically In the case of the lemon shark, several of the public spoke in favor of moving this species to prohibited status. The lemon shark’s life history pattern was discussed and it was pointed out that this shark has been reported by NMFS as THE most vulnerable of the large coastal species. Lemon sharks take from 12-15 years to reach sexual maturity equivalent to a length of approximately 92” (7.8”)/235 cm which is a lot bigger than the present suggested minimum length of the ASFMC.

From juvenile to adult, lemon sharks most of their lives in a coastal habitat from very shallow to 200 feet of water. This nearness to shore makes them highly vulnerable to both commercial and recreation fishers. But more recently it has been shown that adult lemon sharks from far and wide gather on large aggregations off Palm Beach and Martin counties. This greatly increases their exposure to targeted fishing. It would not be unreasonable to predict that if targeted the entire breeding population could be wiped out in a number of days or weeks. Based on the data we have been compiling over the past three years on the South Florida’s lemon shark aggregations, the “highly vulnerable” status could be taken as an understatement.

From a commercial standpoint, the lemon shark catch has historically been miniscule representing only 0.7 of the entire Atlantic coast long line fishery. Lemons rank # 7 in commercial landings at 62,000 lbs. vs. 1.5 Million pounds of sandbar shark taken annually. Further the value of the fins is relatively lows, being grade B on the world market. Thus the total value of the lemon shark take is very small and would not seriously impact the economy of the fishery if they were excluded.

Historically the lemon shark was not particularly targeted or under heavy fishing pressure. But recently that picture has changed as fishers are trying for larger individual sharks.

Our goal over the next several months will be to bring together all relevant information on the lemon shark to make the case that this species is highly vulnerable, has a relatively low abundance and could be extirpated from Florida waters unless protected. This applies to both federal and state regulation. We believe that elevating lemon sharks to a prohibited species for both commercial and recreational fishers is a goal that can be achieve with the help of the public at large.

More information: To see the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission's (ASMFC) Interstate Fishery Management Plan for Atlantic Coastal Sharks in its entirety - http://www.asmfc.org/speciesDocument...stalSharks.pdf

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