Atlantic Shark Fisheries Management Highlights: A Timeline
Highlights of Atlantic shark fisheries management from the 1976 to 2023.
NOAA Fisheries has successfully managed shark fisheries since 1993, but the foundations for shark management started in the 1970s. Our management has evolved as a result of gaining understanding of sharks and the role they play in marine ecosystems.
Atlantic shark fisheries are faced with many new challenges, including the impacts of climate change, shark depredation, declining catch and participation, and policy changes. We are committed to continuing our work with the fishing industry, recreational anglers, conservation groups, and others to maintain productive and sustainable fisheries.
Congress passes the Fishery Conservation and Management Act to foster the long-term biological and economic sustainability of marine fisheries. Atlantic sharks are managed under five Atlantic-based regional fishery management councils (New England, Mid-Atlantic, South Atlantic, Gulf of Mexico, and Caribbean).
The five regional fishery management councils ask the Secretary of Commerce to develop a Shark Fishery Management Plan. There are concerns about the late maturity and low fecundity of sharks, the increase in fishing mortality, and the possibility of overfishing. The councils request that the plan cap commercial fishing effort, establish a recreational bag limit, prohibit shark finning, and begin a data collection system.
President George H.W. Bush signs the Fishery Conservation Amendments of 1990. This gives the Secretary of Commerce authority to manage Atlantic Highly Migratory Species (i.e., sharks, tunas, swordfish, and billfish) in the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone of the Atlantic Ocean, Gulf of Mexico, and Caribbean Sea. The Secretary subsequently delegates this authority to NOAA Fisheries through the Highly Migratory Species Management Division.
NOAA Fisheries implements the first Fishery Management Plan for Sharks of the Atlantic Ocean. This plan managed all U.S. Atlantic federal shark fisheries from Maine through Texas including those in the Caribbean Sea. The plan established many of the management measures for Atlantic sharks that are the basis for those in place today. This includes a prohibition on shark finning, which is a process of removing shark fins at sea and discarding the rest of the shark. To simplify the management of the 39 different species, sharks were grouped together into different complexes, including large coastal, small coastal, and pelagic.
Congress amends the Fishery Conservation and Management Act with the Sustainable Fisheries Act, renaming it the Magnuson-Stevens Act. The Act includes numerous new mandates, such as a requirement to identify, describe, and conserve essential fish habitat for all managed species. It includes a requirement to establish an advisory panel to assist in the development of fishery management plans and plan amendments for Atlantic Highly Migratory Species.
NOAA Fisheries establishes the prohibited shark species group (sharks that cannot be retained, possessed, sold, or purchased). We add white, whale, basking, sand tiger, and bigeye sand tiger sharks.
NOAA Fisheries combines different fishery management plans, including the 1993 shark plan, into the 1999 plan for atlantic tunas, swordfish, and sharks. This plan established measures to rebuild overfished Highly Migratory Species fish stocks. It also contained measures to prevent overfishing in commercial and recreational fisheries, including:
- Reducing and limiting the number of commercial fishermen who can retain sharks
- Expanding the prohibited shark species group to include 14 additional species, such as dusky and Atlantic angel shark
- Specifying quotas for scientific research and education for the Highly Migratory Species Exempted Fishing Permit Program
- Identifying essential fish habitat
Congress passes the Shark Finning Prohibition Act, expanding the Atlantic finning prohibition across the United States. Under the law, fins could be removed from the shark carcass once the shark was dead and landed. However, the law prohibited possessing shark fins aboard a fishing vessel or coming ashore with fins but no carcasses.
NOAA Fisheries releases the United States National Plan of Action for the Conservation and Management of Sharks. The Plan clarified that the management of sharks under the authority of the Magnuson-Stevens Act is consistent with the terms of the International Plan of Action.
The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora lists whales and basking sharks on Appendix II. Under Appendix II, trade is allowed but monitored. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service issues permits for any species listed on the CITES Appendix. Since then, a number of other sharks (e.g., silky, shortfin mako, and oceanic whitetip) have been listed under Appendix II. At the 2022 meeting, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora listed bonnethead sharks (effective February 25, 2023) and requiem sharks, such as sandbar and tiger sharks (effective November 25, 2023).
The International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas puts in place the same shark finning ban as the United States. It is a requirement for all contracting parties or countries throughout the Atlantic Ocean. This was the first mandatory shark management action by ICCAT. Since then, ICCAT has increasingly managed sharks. In 2019, they agreed to add some shark species to the Convention. This addition still needs to be ratified by various nations, including the United States, before it takes effect.
NOAA Fisheries implements management measures based on recent stock assessments. There was a need to rebuild populations of sandbar, porbeagle, dusky, and blacktip sharks. These measures include:
- The creation of the Shark Research Fishery to collect valuable shark life history and other scientific data required for shark stock assessments
- A requirement that all Atlantic sharks be offloaded with fins naturally attached
Under this requirement, sharks must be landed with all their fins attached to the carcass. Once the shark is off the vessel, the fins may be removed from the carcass, and, in commercial fisheries, sold separately.
Interstate Fishery Management
The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission adopts their Interstate Fishery Management Plan for Atlantic Coastal Sharks. This plan manages shark fisheries in state waters from Maine through the east coast of Florida. The management measures in this plan complement the measures in Atlantic federal waters.
Smooth dogfish, Florida smoothhound, and Gulf smoothhound sharks are added to the Highly Migratory Species fishery management unit. The Highly Migratory Species Management Division now manages 43 species of Atlantic sharks. In addition, NOAA Fisheries also updated various measures for blacknose and shortfin mako sharks.
President Barack Obama signs into law the Shark Conservation Act of 2010. The Act expands the Atlantic-based fin naturally attached requirement to all federally managed shark fisheries in the United States, except smooth and spiny dogfish.
NOAA Fisheries establishes management measures to reduce fishing mortality and rebuild various overfished Atlantic shark species, including sandbar, scalloped hammerhead, and Atlantic blacknose sharks.
To adapt to the changing needs of shark fisheries, management measures are put in place. They increase management flexibility, prevent overfishing while maximizing catch, and rebuild overfished shark stocks.
A range of new management measures apply to fishermen who fish for smoothhound sharks and fishermen who fish for sharks with gillnet gear.
NOAA Fisheries implements management measures to end overfishing and rebuild the dusky shark stock.
- Anglers are required to use circle hooks, learn safe handling and release techniques, and improve shark species identification.
- Anglers are required to apply for a “shark endorsement” on their fishing permit to fish, retain, possess, or land sharks in the recreational fishery.
- Commercial fishermen are required to use certain gears and procedures if dusky sharks are caught. They must increase the probability that dusky sharks will survive the encounter.
Following the Highly Migratory Species essential fish habitat 5-year review, we establish habitat areas of particular concern for lemon, sand tiger, and sandbar sharks.
Management measures protecting North Atlantic shortfin mako sharks are implemented to address overfishing and rebuild the overfished stock.
NOAA Fisheries sets a shortfin mako shark retention limit to a default limit of zero in commercial and recreational Highly Migratory Species fisheries. This is in response to an International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas requirement.
President Joe Biden signs the Shark Fin Sales Elimination Act into law. It is now illegal to possess, buy, sell, or transport shark fins or any product containing shark fins. The only exception is smooth and spiny dogfish fins.
NOAA Fisheries releases its Atlantic Shark Fishery Review document, an analysis of trends within the commercial and recreational shark fisheries. It identifies main areas of success and concerns with conservation and management measures with the goal of improving shark fisheries management.