Please submit your comments to protect lemon sharks when they are at their most vulnerable – as they begin to aggregate. Please submit comments to NOAA-NMFS before the September 23, 2013 deadline.
See below for details.
In 2010, Shark Savers and a coalition of shark scientists, advocates, and concerned citizens worked with the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to fully protect lemon sharks within Florida State waters (extending to 3 nautical miles from shore). However their critically and ecologically important aggregation site off of Jupiter, Florida is OUTSIDE state waters. Therefore, today, lemon sharks are not protected in the states’ waters north of Florida along the Atlantic coast or in adjacent Federal waters.
NOAA-NMFS (National Marine Fisheries Service) has proposed to open the 2014 Atlantic Shark Commercial Fishing Season (including lemon sharks) throughout their Atlantic coastal range, beginning January 1, 2014. Proposed Rule states “seasonal variation of the different species/management groups” was examined and “the proposed opening date of January 1 would allow fishermen to harvest some of the 2014 quota at the beginning of the year, when sharks are more prevalent in the South Atlantic area.”
This means it will, again, be open season on this now vanishing lemon shark aggregation.
Before lemon sharks were protected in Florida’s waters, the Atlantic Shark Commercial Fishing Season opened on July 1, which did not interfere with either the timing of lemon shark aggregations or birth of their pups. Now, scientists, conservationists, and the recreational dive community in Florida are raising serious concerns regarding the new opening date’s timing and thus demonstrated impact on the lemon shark aggregation.
NMFS’s criteria for setting the opening of the fishing season includes “variation in seasonal distribution, abundance, or migratory patterns of the different species or management groups based on scientific and fishery information” yet in the case of the lemon sharks, these criteria have not been sufficiently thought out considering the known impact of the January 1st opening date (see below for evidence based on current biological and tagging studies).
Biological research conducted by the Bimini Biological Field Station, directed by Dr. Steven Kessel and Dr. Samuel Gruber since 2007, has revealed that adult lemon sharks ranging from Georgia and the Carolinas down through the Florida Keys and out to the Bahamas aggregate on the coastal shelf off of Jupiter, Florida during the months of January to April, before returning to their summer home ranges. From this study, researchers report an alarming decline in redetection rates of lemon sharks since beginning in 2010 when NOAA prohibited take of the sandbar shark. On average since 2007 there has been a 10 - 15% decline per year in redetection rates, indicating harvest rates that are too high for the population to ever recover, even under maximum recovery rates for this species. The red line indicates when NMFS changed the Atlantic Coast Commercial Shark Fishing season from July 1st to January 1st. (Data source: Steve Kessel PhD and Samuel Gruber PhD, Bimini Biological Field Station -- Shark Lab)
Additionally, reports from the recreational diving community provide further evidence that declines have occurred because of the increasingly infrequent encounters with the aggregating lemon sharks off Jupiter’s waters.
Reverting to the original July 1 opening of the Large Coastal Shark fishing season would clearly support and protect the highly vulnerable lemon shark aggregation in Florida’s waters. Therefore, Shark Savers along with a number of scientists and other NGOs, including the Bimini Biological Field Station Foundation, oppose the proposed rule that the 2014 Atlantic Shark Commercial Fishing Season open on January 1 based on its negative effect on the regional lemon shark aggregation off the coast of Jupiter, Florida. To relieve fishing pressure on this highly vulnerable, regionally-specific shark population, we recommend the fishing season opening revert to the July 1st date, when the seasonal distribution of lemon sharks is less concentrated and less easily targeted.
1. NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) is soliciting public comments with regard to a proposed rule to; again, open the Atlantic Commercial Shark Fishery on January 1, 2014.
Please submit your comments, here, letting NMFS know that you want the Atlantic Large Coastal Shark Fishing Season to revert to the opening date of July 1st, NOT January 1st, 2014. Your personal comment carries a great deal of weight, so please take a moment to send yours via the direct link above. We suggest using the following talking points that can be edited in your own words:
2. Please share this information and the opportunity/need to submit comments to NOAA-NMFS on this important issue with friends, family, recreational divers and the shark conservation and advocacy community to increase the number of submitted comments to NOAA-NMFS before the September 23, 2014 deadline.
The process to comment is simple and the steps for electronic submission are:
Step 1: Go to http://www.regulations.gov/#!docketDetail;D=NOAA-NMFS-2013-0112
Step 2: Click the ‘‘Comment Now!’’ icon.
Step 3: Complete the required fields and enter or attach your comments.
~ The Shark Savers Team and Bimini Biological Field Station – Shark Lab