The Shark Bottom Longline Observer Program works to gather reliable data on catch, bycatch, and discards in the Shark Bottom Longline Fishery, as well as document interactions with protected species. Administered by the Southeast Fishery Science Center’s Panama City Laboratory, the data collected by observers helps inform management decisions.
We hire one to six observer personnel under contractual agreements to be placed on commercial fishing vessels targeting shark species. Program coordinators maintain data storage and retrieval, quality control, observer support services (training, observer gear, documents, debriefing, data entry), and administrative support.
This fishery targets large coastal sharks (e.g., blacktip shark) and small coastal sharks (e.g., Atlantic sharpnose). Groupers, snappers, and tilefish are also taken. Sometimes, sea turtles are incidentally taken.
The shark bottom longline fishery is active on the southeast coast of the United States and throughout the Gulf of Mexico. Vessels in this fishery average 50 feet long, with longline gear consisting of 5 to 15 miles of mainline and 500 to 1500 hooks being set. Each trip has a catch limit ranging from 3 to 45 large coastal sharks, depending on the time of year and the region (Gulf of Mexico or south Atlantic). Shark directed trips can range from 3-5 days at sea.
In 2007, NOAA Fisheries created a shark research fishery to continue collection of life history data and catch data from sandbar sharks for future stock assessment. A limited number of commercial shark vessels are selected annually and may land sandbar sharks, which are otherwise prohibited. Observer coverage is mandatory within this research fishery (compared to coverage level of 4 percent to 6 percent for the regular shark bottom longline fishery).
Atlantic Fishery Management Councils concerned with shark maturity and birth rates, the increase in fishing mortality, and overfishing request a Shark Fishery Management Plan (FMP) be enacted. The FMP caps commercial fishing efforts, establishes a recreational bag limit, prohibits "finning," and begins a data collection system.
The Secretary of Commerce, through the National Marine Fisheries Service, enacts a Fishery Management Plan for sharks of the Atlantic Ocean that implements an observer program.
The University of Florida Commercial Shark Fishery Observer Program monitors the southeastern United States commercial shark bottom longline fishery.
The observer program moves to the NOAA Fisheries Service Panama City Laboratory Shark Population Assessment Group in Panama City, Florida.
Amendments to the Consolidated Atlantic Highly Migratory Species Fisheries Management Plan created the Shark Research Fishery.