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Shark Conservation, Science, and Management—The U.S. Leads the Way

Bull shark swimming.

Did You Know? 

In the United States, federal law prohibits “shark finning,” a process of removing shark fins at sea and discarding the rest of the shark. This practice has been prohibited by federal law since 2000, but shark conservation was further strengthened in 2010 when Congress passed the Shark Conservation Act. The Shark Conservation Act requires that all sharks in the United States, with one exception, be brought to shore with their fins naturally attached.

Oceanic Whitetip Shark, Credit: Michael Aston
CC BY-NC 2.0

The Science Behind Shark Research

Not only are sharks among the ocean’s top predators and vital to the natural balance of marine ecosystems, they are also a valuable recreational species and food source. To help protect these important marine species, the United States has some of the strongest shark management measures worldwide. NOAA Fisheries manages the commercial and recreational shark fisheries in the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico and works with U.S. regional fishery management councils to conserve and sustainably manage sharks in the Pacific Ocean.

By conducting research, assessing stocks, working with U.S. fishermen, and implementing restrictions when necessary, we sustainably manage shark populations. For overfished shark stocks, we apply management measures to rebuild the stock to a healthy level. Sustainably managed shark fisheries provide opportunities for both commercial and recreational fishermen.

NOAA Fisheries also works with international organizations to get global shark conservation and management measures approved. In addition to prohibiting shark finning in the United States, we continue to promote our fins naturally attached policy overseas.

U.S. Laws and International Agreements for Shark Conservation

The Shark Conservation Act of 2010 amended the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA), which is the federal law governing the conservation and management of federal fisheries. Along with the suite of conservation and management measures this act requires of all federal fisheries, including shark fisheries,  the new additions from the Shark Conservation Act sets the United States apart as a leader in the sustainable management of domestic shark fisheries and the global conservation of sharks.

2013 is marked by a historic conservation milestone for sharks globally. At this year’s Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) Conference of the Parties meeting in Bangkok, countries agreed to increase protection for five commercially-exploited species of sharks. NOAA Fisheries played a key role in the development and adoption of these proposals. Read more

Science Supports Shark Conservation and Management

Globally there is a general lack of data reporting on the catch of sharks, particularly species-specific data. For these reasons, sharks present an array of issues and challenges for fisheries conservation and management both domestically and internationally. Despite the challenges, NOAA Fisheries is committed to achieving sustainable management of sharks. 

NOAA Fisheries conducts scientific research around the United States to collect data to better understand sharks and their biology, populations, and movement patterns. Internationally, we provide technical assistance to other countries in support of their shark conservation efforts, including shark identification and data collection workshops. NOAA Fisheries also collaborates on research promoting science-based management measures and conservation of sharks in our global ocean.

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Swimming tiger shark. 


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