Fish and Game Considers Great Whites for ESA Protection
February 8, 2013
Earlier this week, the California Fish and Game Commission decided to accept a petition to advance the Northeastern Pacific great white shark population to candidacy for protection under the California Endangered Species Act (ESA).
The petition was filed last summer by conservation groups Oceana, Center for Biological Diversity and Shark Stewards.
With their sharp teeth and powerful bodies, great white sharks seem pretty well equipped to protect themselves. But Ashely Blacow, Pacific Policy and Communications Coordinator with Oceana, explains that these predators are not as well off as is commonly believed: “Two recent studies showed that white shark populations were much, much lower than anticipated. Also, the Northeastern Pacific sharks don’t mix with any other shark populations. If we were to lose them, it would create a significant gap in the world wide species range.”
Studies have estimated that only 339 adult and sub-adult great white sharks are currently part of the Northeastern Pacific population. Blacow notes that this number is “alarmingly low”, especially in comparison with other species of predators that are already considered threatened or endangered. For example, scientists estimate that there are about 20,000 threatened polar bears still roaming the arctic.
The decision to advance great white sharks to candidacy will immediately give the species some protection. These protections mostly entail harsher regulations for fishermen who accidentally catch these animals.
“There were a couple fishermen protesting the decision to consider great white sharks for protection,” says Blacow. “But interestingly, they all said that they’d caught great white sharks at some point. Their argument for not protecting them was that they hadn’t caught very many.”
Blacow, however, says that Oceana is “thrilled” with the decision. Over the next year, the California Fish and Game Commission will review current great white shark research and decide whether or not they require protection under the ESA. A similar petition is being considered at the federal level.
(Photo courtesy of NOAA.)