Friday, 5 April 2013
Scalloped Hammerheads Threatened by Fish Commerce and "Finning"
Washington, DC "“ Today the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) proposed to list four Distinct Population Segments (DPS) of scalloped hammerhead sharks (Sphyrna lewini) as "threatened" or "endangered" under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The two remaining DPSs were found "not warranted" for listing. The finding comes in response to a petition by WildEarth Guardians and Friends of Animals.
The hammerhead's name describes its characteristic elongated, flattened head, which on the scalloped hammerhead has distinctive, curved indentations along the front edge. Most sharks, including scalloped hammerheads, play an important role as apex predators in maintaining ocean bio-communities. Ecosystem stability and biodiversity, congressional priorities for the ESA, could seriously suffer from the loss of these top predators.
"These 'wolves of the sea' need our protection," said Taylor Jones, Endangered Species Advocate for WildEarth Guardians. "We're glad to see NMFS stepping up to the plate."
The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) lists the scalloped hammerhead species as "endangered" on its Red List. These sharks live in coastal waters in portions of the Atlantic, Pacific, and Indian Oceans. NMFS has determined that there are six existing DPSs of scalloped hammerheads; they are differentiated by genetics and separated geographically or by differing regulatory mechanisms between countries. Though scalloped hammerheads are capable of travelling long distances, they rarely migrate across ocean basins, preferring to stay close to coastlines.
Fish commerce is the biggest threat to scalloped hammerheads, due to both direct and accidental capture. Scalloped hammerhead sharks have very high commercial value. They are especially coveted for their fins, which are used in dishes such as shark-fin soup. To a lesser extent, the shark's flesh is also sold in various forms as food. The commercial value of the species, combined with the sharks' slow rate of reproduction, makes them highly vulnerable to exploitation.
Lee Hall, legal director for Friends of Animals, said, "Shark exploitation must be confronted if scalloped hammerheads and other sharks are to survive and thrive."
The practice of "finning" is of particular concern for scalloped hammerheads and other sharks. In this practice, crews land the sharks and remove only their fins, disposing of the remainder of the animals overboard and leaving disabled sharks to drown or die of starvation. By taking the fins only, crews catch and kill many more sharks than their boats could otherwise hold-and many more than can be officially recorded as losses to the bio-community.
In many areas there are few regulations in place to protect hammerhead sharks. Listing species under the Endangered Species Act has proven an effective safety mechanism: more than 99 percent of plants and animals listed under the Act persist today. The law is especially important as a bulwark against the current extinction crisis; plants and animals are disappearing at a rate much higher than the natural rate of extinction due to human activities. Scientists estimate that 227 species would have gone extinct if not for ESA listing. Listing species with global distribution can both protect the species domestically, and help focus U.S. resources toward enforcement of international regulation and recovery of the species.