• From: "BIANCHI, John" <JBIANCHI@xxxxxxxxxxx>
  • To:
  • Date: Fri, 24 Jan 2003 17:11:06 -0500

Contact: Merry Camhi, National Audubon Society (631) 581-2927
                                Gregg Schmidt, The Ocean Conservancy (202)
                                Suzanne Carrier, Earthjustice (202) 667-4500


Hiding Behind Uncertain Science,
Government Turns Its Back on Depleted Atlantic Sharks

New York, NY, Friday, January 24, 2003 - In an effort to rebuild populations
of overfished large coastal sharks in US waters in the Atlantic Ocean and
the Gulf of Mexico, Earthjustice filed a lawsuit today in federal court in
Tampa, Florida, on behalf of The Ocean Conservancy and National Audubon
Society. The plaintiffs charge that the National Marine Fisheries Service
(NMFS) has failed to rebuild large coastal shark populations and is allowing
continued overfishing on some of the most vulnerable species by implementing
risk-prone quota increases.  The subject of this new suit is NMFS' emergency
rule of December 27, 2002, which raised the large coastal shark quota by 33
percent and did away with a size limit that would have protected young
sharks.  The groups also claim that NMFS has short-circuited public
participation in fisheries management by regulating via emergency rules,
illegally eliminating the opportunity for public comment.  The groups
further charge that NMFS failed to do a proper environmental assessment of
the full impacts of its emergency rule.

Slow-growing Atlantic large coastal sharks, including sandbar, dusky, and
hammerhead sharks, have been seriously overfished during recent decades.
Although a 2002 population assessment indicates that two species (blacktip
and sandbar) may have begun a recovery, overfishing continues on most
species in the large coastal grouping, including sandbar.  

"The U.S government has jumped the gun and once again jeopardized some of
the oceans' most vulnerable animals," said Sonja Fordham, shark conservation
specialist at The Ocean Conservancy.  "Their smoke and mirror calculations
just don't add up to support more fishing.  By rushing to ensure maximum
exploitation of just one type of commercially caught shark they have turned
their backs on a whole host of other imperiled species.  This risk-prone
action flies in the face of the precautionary approach that is so clearly
warranted for sharks."

In 1999, after extensive input from shark experts and the public, NMFS
adopted a management plan focused on rebuilding 22 species of large coastal
sharks in the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico.  However, due to shark fishing
industry lawsuits, planned quota reductions, minimum sizes, and other
measures from this plan never took effect.  Since then, coastal sharks have
undergone a new population assessment.   This assessment found that large
coastal sharks are still overfished with overfishing still occurring, and
suggested that quota cuts of up to 50 percent might be necessary to rebuild

Rather than issuing a proposed rule for public notice and comment prior to
taking final action, for the third year in a row NMFS has set quotas via
emergency rule.  This circumvents the requirements of the Magnuson-Stevens
Fishery Conservation and Management Act and the Administrative Procedure
Act.  Moreover, NMFS has once again rubber-stamped its decision with a
woefully inadequate environmental assessment, in violation of the National
Environmental Policy Act.

"What is NMFS thinking?" remarked Dr. Merry Camhi, Assistant Director of the
National Audubon Society's Living Oceans Program.  "The only emergency here
is that most large coastal sharks are still in trouble.   NMFS has failed to
demonstrate why quotas should be increased, minimum sizes eliminated, and
fishing seasons changed.  Despite improvements in the science, there remains
no question among shark experts that quotas need to be cut and that these
animals need more precautionary management.  Even the peer reviews of the
2002 assessment, pointing to the tremendous uncertainty in the data and
vulnerability of these animals, came to that conclusion."

"Floridians support protections for coastal sharks, and marine biologists
have warned against raising quotas," said Earthjustice attorney Aliki
Moncrief. "Still, officials rushed through this change that bypasses public
opinion and disregards scientific research. It's a handout to the fishing
industry, plain and simple."

Sharks are especially vulnerable to overfishing because they grow slowly,
mature late, and produce a small number of young.  Decades of unrestricted
fishing for Atlantic large coastal sharks has left many species in serious
trouble.  The sandbar shark population has declined by as much as 80 percent
since the late 1970s. Other species remain in serious trouble. Depletion of
sand tiger, night, and dusky sharks led to a prohibition on fishing for
them.  Now considered candidates for listing under the Endangered Species
Act, these species continue to be killed incidentally in the coastal shark
fishery.  A new study, published last week in the journal Science, further
documented declines of as much as 89 percent for hammerheads, 79 percent for
great white, and 65 percent for tiger sharks over the past two decades.
These Atlantic large coastal sharks now face an increased quota and relaxed
management measures due to NMFS' rash action last month.

The groups are calling for NMFS to lower the fishing quota to a
precautionary level that stops overfishing and ensures rebuilding of all
large coastal shark species, especially those most depleted and vulnerable
species, as mandated by law.  

Earthjustice is the nonprofit law firm for the environment
representing--without charge--hundreds of public interest clients, large and
small.  Earthjustice works through the courts to safeguard public lands,
national forests, parks and wilderness areas; to reduce air and water
pollution; to prevent toxic contamination; to preserve endangered species
and wildlife habitat; and to achieve environmental justice.

The Ocean Conservancy strives to be the world's foremost advocate for the
oceans. Through science-based advocacy, research, and public education, we
inform, inspire, and empower people to speak and act for the oceans. With
more than 150,000 members, The Ocean Conservancy operates from its
headquarters in Washington, DC, and from regional offices in Alaska,
California, Florida, and Maine and field offices in Santa Barbara and Santa
Cruz, CA, the Florida Keys, the U.S. Virgin Islands, and the Office of
Pollution Prevention and Monitoring in Virginia Beach, VA.

Audubon is committed to conserving and restoring natural ecosystems,
focusing on birds and other wildlife for the benefit of humanity and the
earth's biological diversity.  Living Oceans is Audubon's marine
conservation program.  Our mission is to protect and restore the living
communities and special places of the seas for fish, seabirds, and other
marine life, and for the benefit of humanity.

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