Sharks, Skates and Rays Proposed for Protection

07 December 2015 | WildEarth Guardians News Release

Washington, DC—Today the National Marine Fisheries Service (Service) proposed protecting six species of sharks, skates, and rays under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The listings, if finalized, will provide much-needed protections from threats including fishing and bycatch.

“We’re thrilled that these six rare sharks, skates, and rays are closer to getting the powerful protections of the Endangered Species Act,” said Taylor Jones, endangered species advocate for WildEarth Guardians. “Unsustainable fishing around the world is devastating multitudes of ocean species, and we urgently need to stop plundering the seas.”

All six species are threatened by overutilization in fisheries. The Service is proposing to list the daggernose shark (Isogomphodon oxyrhynchus), Brazilian guitarfish (Rhinobatos horkelii), striped smoothhound shark (Mustelus fasciatus), and Argentine angel shark (Squatina argentina), as “endangered,” meaning they are at high risk of extinction. The Service is proposing to list the narrownose smoothhound shark (Mustelus schmitti) and spiny angel shark (Squatina guggenheim) as “threatened” species, because overutilization is likely to put the species at risk of extinction in the foreseeable future.

“The National Marine Fisheries Service should quickly finalize these proposed listings so these six species have the best possible chance to survive,” continued Jones. “The Endangered Species Act is a proven tool for preventing extinction and aiding imperiled species on the path to recovery and these six species needs the Act’s protections now.”

WildEarth Guardians submitted a petition to list 81 marine species and subpopulations, including the seven species in today’s decision, under the ESA in July of 2013 due to significant threats to our oceans. An estimated 50 to 80 percent of all life on earth is found in the oceans. More than half of marine species may be at risk of extinction by 2100 without significant conservation efforts. Despite this grave situation, the U.S. largely fails to protect marine species under the ESA. Of the more than 2,200 species protected under the Act, only 5 percent are marine species.

Recognizing the decline of ocean health, on July 22, 2010, President Obama issued an Executive Order requiring agencies, including the Service, to “protect, maintain, and restore the health and biological diversity of ocean… ecosystems,” and to “use the best available science and knowledge to inform decisions affecting the ocean.” Guardians’ multi-species marine petition seeks to compel the Service to live up to this mandate.

Protection under the ESA is an effective safety net for imperiled species: more than 99 percent of plants and animals protected by the law exist today. The law is especially important as a defense against the current extinction crisis; species 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 by 2006 if not for ESA protections. 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.

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Species Descriptions

Daggernose sharks (Isogomphodon oxyrhynchus) are small sharks three to four feet in length. They live in the central western Atlantic Ocean and Caribbean Sea, and frequent the waters near the coastlines of several South American countries: Venezuela, Trinidad, Guyana, Suriname, French Guiana, and northern Brazil. They are often found in mangrove coastlines, and in Brazil their reproductive cycle is synchronized with the rainy season. Researchers estimate that their population declined at least 90 percent from the mid-1990s to mid-2000s. The main threat is overutilization. The Service is proposing to list the daggernose shark as “endangered.”

Brazilian guitarfish (Rhinobatos horkelii) are in the ray family. They live along the coast of South America in the southwestern Atlantic from Bahia, Brazil to Mar del Plata, Argentina. They are three to four feet in length and live near shore until they reach maturity at seven to nine years for females and five to six years for males. The species is threatened by overutilization, which caused a collapse of the population on the Plataforma Sul, an area of the continental shelf near southern Brazil at the center of the species’ distribution. The Service is proposing to list the Brazilian guitarfish as “endangered.”

Striped smoothhound sharks (Mustelus fasciatus) are named for the dark vertical stripes running across the top of their heads and bodies, which are particularly pronounced in newborns and juveniles. When full-grown they are about four feet long. They are found from near shore to depths of up to 820 feet along the continental shelf and slope of the southwestern Atlantic off Brazil, Uruguay, and Argentina. During the winter, the adults are concentrated on the Plataforma Sul. Some live there year-round, but in summer some of the population migrates to Uruguay and Argentine waters. Areas occupied by newborn sharks declined by 95 percent between 1981 and 2005. The species is threatened by overutilization and bycatch in commercial fisheries. The Service is proposing to list the striped smoothhound shark as “endangered.”

Narrownose smoothhound sharks (Mustelus schmitti) are small sharks that reach a length of two to two and a half feet. They inhabit the southwestern Atlantic from southern Brazil to southern Argentina. Like the striped smoothhound, a portion of the narrownose smoothhound population is migratory and moves north from Argentina to Brazil in the winter. The most recent abundance estimate found the Argentinean population at 46 percent of the 1999 population and still declining, and the winter population in Brazil declined by 85 percent between 1985 and 1994. The species is intensively fished throughout its range, and is the most heavily exploited species in Argentinean artisanal fisheries. The Service is proposing to list the narrownose smoothhound shark as “threatened.”

Argentine angel sharks (Squatina argentina) live in the southwestern Atlantic Ocean from southern Brazil to Argentina. Maximum recorded length for an adult is four and a half feet. There is very little information on the life history of Argentine angel sharks, and they are considered the least common angel shark species in the southwest Atlantic. They appear to be most abundant between Rio Grande and Chuí in Rio Grande do Sul in Brazil, but their population there declined 80 percent between 1986 and 2002. The primary threat to Argentine angel sharks is overutilization, particularly from commercial trawl and gillnet fisheries in Brazil. The Service is proposing to list the Argentine angel shark as “endangered.”

Spiny angel sharks (Squatina guggenheim), like Argentine angel sharks, live in the southwestern Atlantic Ocean from southern Brazil to Argentina. They grow to approximately three feet long. They can be distinguished from other angel shark species by the row of spines down the center of their backs. They are coastal, bottom-dwelling fish and are mainly active at night. There is limited data on abundance, but most available studies show population declines and the species is heavily fished throughout its range. The Service is proposing to list the spiny angel shark as “threatened.”

Contact: Taylor Jones (720) 443-2615


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