Commerce Secretary Closes Fishery To Save Sharks

April 5, 2000

Leading environmental groups expressed relief over today’s announcement that on May 1 the Commerce Secretary will end the wide-open dogfish shark fishery off the New England and Mid-Atlantic coasts. The Secretary today announced an annual quota and other management measures protective enough to discourage intentional fishing for spiny dogfish.

Sharks grow slowly, mature late, and produce a small number of offspring, leaving them exceptionally vulnerable to overfishing and slow to recover. 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 implementation three times since approval due to intense political pressure.

“The Secretary’s decision today sets the stage for bringing back lost fishing and processing jobs, although it will likely take years,” said Fred Krupp, Environmental Defense executive director. “Wide-open, unregulated dogfish fishing nearly wiped out the breeding females. Had this fishery continued unchecked the stock would have collapsed for a generation or more.”

“While we are relieved that the Secretary of Commerce intends to end the directed dogfish fishing as planned, controls on this fishery are many years overdue,” said Roger Rufe, president of the Center for Marine Conservation (CMC). “This long delay is a far cry from the precautionary approach that is warranted for such a slow growing, vulnerable animal.”

“Once the targeting of dogfish ends, the fastest path to recovery will involve significant reductions in the numbers of these sharks caught inadvertently and discarded as bycatch in other fisheries,” said CMC shark specialist Sonja Fordham. “Fishery managers should channel widespread concern over bycatch into technical innovations for cleaner, less wasteful fishing.”

“The Secretary’s decision today should send a strong message that political pressure won’t succeed in undermining legally required fishery conservation measures,” said Doug Hopkins, Environmental Defense senior attorney. “We hope members of Congress read the Secretary’s action loud and clear.”