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North Carolina Department of Environment Quality

NC Department of Environment and Natural Resources
Marine Fisheries - Sharks

Marine Fisheries

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COASTAL SHARKS

8-point rule

Blacktip shark

Life History

Sharks belong to the class Chondrichthyes (cartilaginous fish) that also includes rays and skates. Relative to other marine fish, sharks produce few young in their lifetime. The low reproductive rate is due to slow growth, late sexual maturity of females, one to two-year reproductive cycles, and small litter size. These biological factors leave many species of sharks vulnerable to overfishing.

Sharks exhibit a number of different reproductive strategies ranging from giving birth to live pups to egg laying. Generally, female sharks produce a small number (2 to 25) large-body pups. For some species, an increased gestation period allows for larger pups, which is thought to increase juvenile survivorship. Adults usually gather in specific areas to mate, although little is known about shark mating behavior for most species. Sharks also exhibit a wide variety of life history traits across species. Some pelagic species such as shortfin mako (Isurus oxyrinchus) or Atlantic thresher (Alopias vulpinus), generally remain in offshore ocean environments their whole lives. Other shark species have an estuarine-dependent component to their life cycle. For example, mature female Atlantic sharpnose sharks (Rhizoprionodon terraenovae) and sandbars (Charcarhinus plumbeus) travel from nearshore coastal areas into estuarine habitats to pup. Coastal shark nursery areas, such as bays and estuaries, are discrete, productive, and highly structured habitats that provide juveniles ample nutrients and refuge from predators. Once mature, these shark species will emigrate into coastal ocean environments to continue their life cycle. The variability of life history traits (growth rate, age-at-maturity, reproduction rate, etc.) and highly mobile nature of sharks makes fisheries management across multiple species difficult.

Fisheries

The Atlantic commercial shark fishery, including smooth dogfish (Mustelus canis), is generally concentrated in the Southeastern United States. The Atlantic fishery targets both large and small coastal shark species with bottom longline being the primary commercial gear, followed by gill nets. Commercial bottom longlines are approximately 3 miles on average and contain about 300 hooks. Commercial shark gill nets range up to approximately 7,500 feet and can be fished at a variety of depths down to 750 feet. Commercial coastal shark landings in North Carolina have fluctuated in the past 10 years (Figure 1), while smooth dogfish landings have steadily declined since 2010 (Figure 2). Coastal shark landings in 2016 reached the second highest in the time series.

Figure 1

Figure 2

The recreational fishery for Atlantic sharks occurs in federal and state waters from New England to the Caribbean Sea. Once called "the poor man's marlin," recreational shark fishing is now a popular sport. Sharks can be caught by rod and reel and a variety of shark species can be encountered in nearshore areas. Recreational harvest has been variable for the past 10 years (2008-2017) for all four shark management groups (Figure 3). Recreational releases have also varied across shark management groups between years (2008-2017) and represent a large contingent of total recreational catches (Figure 4).

Figure 3

Figure 3

Management

In the early 1990s, the National Marine Fisheries Service implemented a Fishery Management Plan for Sharks of the Atlantic Ocean to rebuild depleted stocks and monitor fishing harvest. In 2008, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission adopted an Interstate Fishery Management Plan for Atlantic Coastal Sharks (and later Addenda I-IV to the plan) to complement federal management actions and provide protection of pregnant females and juveniles in inshore nursery areas. The plan regulates 40 different species of coastal sharks found on the Atlantic coast.

Addendum I (2009) modified recreational possession limits for the smoothhound shark complex and other species, allowed at-sea processing of smooth dogfish from March to June, and removed the two-hour net check requirements. Addenda II and III (2013) addressed changes in the federal management of coastal sharks. Addendum II allocated state-shares of the smoothhound shark complex coastwide quota and modified the maximum fin to carcass ratio as stipulated in the Shark Conservation Act of 2010. Addendum III created two new species groups: hammerheads (Sphyrna spp.) and blacknose (Carcharhinus acronotus) and increased the recreational size limit for hammerheads. Addendum IV allowed smooth dogfish carcasses to be landed with their corresponding fins removed from the carcass if the total retained catch, by weight, is composed of at least 25 percent smooth dogfish, consistent with federal management measures.

Stock Overview

  • Assessment: Varies by species/complex (Table 1)
  • Terminal Year of Last Assessment: Varies by species/complex (Table 1)
    • Overfishing: Varies by species/complex (Table 1)
    • Overfished: Varies by species/complex (Table 1)

Stock status is determined by species or by species complex if there is not enough data for an individual assessment by various federal agencies (Table 1). Fourteen species have been assessed in the United States, three species have been reviewed internationally, and the remaining 28 species have not yet been evaluated. Like other marine fish species, fisheries management implementation for sharks is based on stock assessment analysis, which can be reviewed and updated as needed when new biological and fisheries information is made available.

Table 1. Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commissions 2018 stock status designations for coastal sharks species groups.

Species or Complex Name

Stock overfished?

Stock undergoing overfishing?

Stock assessment year and comments

Pelagic

Porbeagle

Yes

No

2009: Rebuilding ends 2018

Blue

No

No

2015

Shortfin Mako

Yes

Yes

2017

All other pelagic species

Unknown

Unknown

Large Coastal Sharks

Blacktip

Unknown

Unknown

2006

Aggregated Large Coastal Sharks-
Atlantic Region

Unknown

Unknown

2006: Difficult to assess as a species complex due to various life history characteristics/lack of available data

Non-blacknose Small Coastal Sharks

Atlantic Sharpnose

No

No

2013

Bonnethead

No

No

2013

Finetooth

No

No

2007

Hammerhead

Scalloped

Yes

Yes

2009

Blacknose

Blacknose

Yes

Yes

2010: Rebuilding ends in 2043

Smoothhound

Smooth Dogfish

No

No

2015

Research

Sandbar

Yes

No

2010

Prohibited

Dusky

Yes

Yes

2010

All other prohibited species

Unknown

Unknown

 


Research Needs

Data and research needs for assessed coastal shark species include updating age, growth, and reproductive estimates and determining gear specific post release mortality estimates. For coastal shark species not assessed, data and research needs include determining life history information for data poor species as well as genetic, conventional, and electronic tagging to determine appropriate management units. Additionally, research needs for all coastal shark species include implementation of both commercial and recreational monitoring programs to ascertain estimates of post-release mortality, catch-at-age information, and reliable length-age compositions for future stock assessments.

Links

Management Agencies

North Carolina Division of Marine Fisheries

Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission-Coastal Sharks

NOAA Fisheries Atlantic Highly Migratory Species Division

Fishery Management Plans Amendments, Revisions and Supplements

Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission-Coastal Sharks

NOAA Fisheries Atlantic Highly Migratory Species Division-FMP Amendments

Stock Assessment Reports

SEDAR 11 Large Coastal Sharks, Blacktip Shark, and Sandbar Shark Stock Assessment

SEDAR 13 HMS Small Coastal Sharks, Atlantic Sharpnose Shark, Bonnethead Shark, Blacknose Shark, and Fine Tooth Shark Stock Assessment

SEDAR 21 HMS Sandbar Shark, Dusky Shark, and Blacknose Shark Stock Assessment

SEDAR 34 HMS Atlantic Sharpnose Shark and Bonnethead Shark Stock Assessment

SEDAR 39 HMS Smoothhound Sharks

ICCAT Pelagic Shark Stock Assessments

Contacts

For more information, contact Lisa Hollensead at Lisa.Hollensead@ncdenr.gov
or 252-473-5734
Shark
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N.C. Division of Marine Fisheries • 3441 Arendell Street • Morehead City, NC 28557 • 252-726-7021 or 800-682-2632

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