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Oceana Launches Lawsuit Against Federal Government to Save Dusky Sharks in Gulf of Mexico and Atlantic

Thousands of Dusky Sharks Are Killed Every Year in U.S. Longline Fisheries, in Violation of  Federal Law
WASHINGTON -

Today, Oceana, which was represented by Earthjustice, sued the federal government to end the overfishing of dusky sharks in U.S. waters. Dusky shark populations off the Atlantic and Gulf coasts have plummeted by 85 percent in the past two decades as a result of overfishing and bycatch – the incidental capture of fish and ocean wildlife. In 2000, the National Marine Fisheries Service prohibited fishermen from targeting dusky sharks and bringing them to the dock, in an attempt to help rebuild the population. However, the Fisheries Service did not account for fishing vessels incidentally catching and killing dusky sharks as bycatch. Since that time, government data shows that as many as 75,000 dusky sharks may have been caught and discarded as bycatch in the Atlantic and Gulf.

In the lawsuit filed today, Oceana claims the Fisheries Service violated the Magnuson-Stevens Act, the primary law governing federal fisheries, by failing to end the overfishing of dusky sharks. Oceana also claims the federal government failed to establish an annual catch limit and measures to enforce such a limit as well as failed to revise dusky shark management measures once it became apparent that the current measures were not rebuilding the population to healthy levels, as required by law.

Oceana campaign director Lora Snyder released the following statement:

“The Fisheries Service has acknowledged for years that dusky sharks are critically depleted and in serious trouble, yet this population is still being overfished due to federal inaction.

Three years ago, the Fisheries Service had a chance to address the situation when it proposed setting bycatch limits and closing certain dusky “hotspots” to fishing. While this proposal was strongly supported by scientists, it was eventually withdrawn by the Fisheries Service, again leaving dusky sharks unprotected and overfished.

The federal government is legally required to take action to recover this population. Any further delay is unacceptable.”

Dusky sharks grow slowly and have low reproductive rates, rendering the species highly vulnerable to overfishing. Over 4,000 dusky sharks are snagged every year in fishing gear meant to catch other species such as grouper, snapper, swordfish and other shark species. Many of these dusky sharks – as much as 80 percent – die by the time they are hauled to the boat and tossed overboard. Federal fisheries law required  the Fisheries Service to cap the number of dusky sharks killed due to fishing effort by 2010, but it still has not done so.

“Dusky sharks are an integral part of a healthy ocean, but their numbers have been decimated by years of abuse,” said Andrea Treece, the Earthjustice attorney representing Oceana in this case. “Our nation’s fisheries laws require the agency to arrest this decline and to immediately rebuild this vulnerable keystone ocean predator.”

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Earthjustice is a non-profit public interest law firm dedicated to protecting the magnificent places, natural resources, and wildlife of this earth, and to defending the right of all people to a healthy environment. We bring about far-reaching change by enforcing and strengthening environmental laws on behalf of hundreds of organizations, coalitions and communities.

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