Commerce Department Blasted For Failure To Protect Sharks

March 30, 2000

Leading environmental groups expressed grave disappointment over today’s announcement that the Commerce Department has issued a third, unlawful delay of the management plan to stop overfishing and rebuild spiny dogfish sharks off the New England and Mid-Atlantic coasts.

“With this repeated delay of dogfish shark management, the Secretary of Commerce is ignoring the science, violating the Sustainable Fisheries Act, and breaking the public trust,” said Roger Rufe, president of the Center for Marine Conservation. “We continue to urge the Clinton Administration to immediately implement the dogfish management plan as approved earlier this year.”

Sharks grow slowly, mature late, and produce a small number of offspring, leaving them exceptionally vulnerable to overfishing and slow to recover from depletion. East Coast fishery managers have spent years developing a plan to stop overfishing and rebuild the depleted breeding stock within ten years, as mandated by the Sustainable Fisheries Act. After months of holdups, the Commerce department finalized a plan in January, but has delayed its implementation three times due to intense political pressure.

“Moving forward with the dogfish plan is a clear biological and legal imperative,” said Fred Krupp,executive director of Environmental Defense. “The already approved plan would restore the economic viability of the fishery, protecting jobs as well as fish for the long-term. Any further foot dragging may well ruin hope of a sustainable dogfish fishery in the foreseeable future.”

“Delaying the dogfish shark plan risks population collapse and sets a dangerous precedent,” said John Adams, president of the Natural Resources Defense Council. “Such poor stewardship is a disservice to future dogfish fishermen and the rest of the public to whom these resources also belong.”

Ironically, the United States is a leading proponent of global initiatives to safeguard sharks, including a 1999 United Nations International Plan of Action and proposal to restrict international trade in shark parts. These initiatives stress sharks’ biological vulnerability and the need for precautionary management.

“Failure by this administration to stop the egregious overfishing of sharks in our own waters raises concern that its support for international shark conservation is merely rhetorical” said William Eichbaum, vice president of U.S. Conservation and Global Threats, World Wildlife Fund.

The Secretary of Commerce is expected to decide the fate of the dogfish plan by April 3.

“If the directed dogfish fishery is not closed as planned, we will have taken a tragic path that sacrifices a vulnerable and valuable resource to short-term economic concerns,” said John Flicker, president of the National Audubon Society. “Beyond that, it will undermine the public’s trust and jeopardize our country’s credibility as a global leader in shark conservation.”