As one of the top ocean predators, sharks play an important role in the food web and help ensure balance in the ocean’s ecosystem. With increased demand and exploitation rates for some shark species and shark products, concern has steadily grown regarding the status of many shark stocks and their exploitation in global fisheries.
Relative to other marine fish, sharks are characterized by relatively slow growth, late sexual maturity, and a small number of young per brood. These biological factors make many shark species vulnerable to overfishing. Sharks are captured in directed fisheries and also as bycatch in other non-directed fisheries. Many shark species have been over-exploited because their fins are highly valued for shark fin soup. Globally, there is a general lack of data reporting on the catch of sharks, particularly species-specific data. For these reasons, sharks present many challenges for fisheries conservation and management.
Despite these challenges, we are committed to sustainable shark management. We manage commercial and recreational shark fisheries in the Atlantic Ocean and work with three 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 on shark harvests, we have made significant progress toward ending overfishing and rebuilding overfished stocks for long-term sustainability.
The following species are currently listed as endangered under the Endangered Species Act:
Smalltooth sawfish (U.S. and non-U.S. portion of range).
Scalloped hammerhead shark (Eastern Atlantic).
Scalloped hammerhead shark (Eastern Pacific).
Striped smoothhound shark.
The following species are currently listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act:
Narrownose smoothhound shark.
Scalloped hammerhead shark (Central and Southwest Atlantic).
Scalloped hammerhead shark (Indo-West Pacific).
We have management measures for overfished shark species to rebuild their stocks to a sustainable level. The United States also supports and implements the landing of sharks with their fins naturally attached. This policy enables the collection of species-specific information needed for shark management and conservation, and enhances the ability to enforce existing shark regulations domestically.
Learn more about the Shark Conservation Act
The United States continues to be a leader in promoting the global conservation and management of sharks. We work with regional fisheries management organizations and other international bodies for global shark conservation and management measures. We also work internationally to promote our "fins naturally attached" policy overseas and provide technical support for other countries’ shark conservation efforts. Support activities include shark identification training and data collection workshops. We also collaborate with other countries on research aimed at achieving science-based management measures and conservation of sharks in our global ocean.
The Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals—also known as CMS or the Bonn Convention— aims to conserve terrestrial, aquatic, and avian migratory species throughout their range. It is an intergovernmental treaty, backed by the United Nations Environment Programme, concerned with the conservation of wildlife and habitats on a global scale. The United States is not a CMS Party, but it has signed the memorandum of understanding on the Conservation of Migratory Sharks.
Member countries agreed to increase protections for commercially exploited shark and ray species at the 17th meeting of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES). The newly listed shark species include devil rays, thresher sharks, and silky sharks. Shark species already listed in CITES Appendix II include the basking shark, whale shark, great white shark, oceanic whitetip shark, three species of hammerhead sharks (scalloped, great, and smooth), porbeagle shark, and manta rays.
Learn more about CITES-listed sharks and rays.
U.S. National Plan of Action for the Conservation and Management of Sharks (PDF)
2014 Report on the Implementation of the U.S. National Plan of Action (PDF)
Shark Fin ID Guide (NW Atlantic Ocean) (PDF)
Shark and Ray Conservation in West Africa
Shark Finning Reports to Congress
Atlantic Highly Migratory Species
Pacific Fishery Management Council
Western Pacific Fishery Management Council
North Pacific Fishery Management Council
For questions about international shark conservation, please contact Cheri McCarty, Office of International Affairs and Seafood Inspection—firstname.lastname@example.org.