NMFS issued a Proposed Rule/Environmental Impact Statement to implement Amendment 3 to the Highly Migratory Species Fishery Management Plan, which includes measures to provide for the rebuilding of blacknose shark. In 2008, NMFS announced a surprising new stock assessment that finds blacknose shark is overfished and overfishing is occurring. According to the report, 30-62 percent of the fishing mortality of this species is due to shrimp trawl bycatch in the Gulf of Mexico and an additional 4-7 percent is attributable to shrimp trawl bycatch in the South Atlantic.
The SSA funded a comprehensive scientific analysis of the federal stock assessment for blacknose sharks that strongly questioned the data and scientific conclusions of that stock assessment concerning blacknose shark bycatch in the shrimp trawl fisheries. The SSA also conducted an in-depth review of trawl video used to sensationalize this issue and showed that 83% of the sharks escaped from turtle excluder devises that are widely used throughout the industry today.
Further, the SSA recommended to NMFS that no measures should be proposed for the shrimp fishery until these urgent scientific questions are resolved. The SSA also recommended that any management measures to reduce blacknose shark bycatch in the shrimp fisheries, if needed, should be developed by the Gulf and South Atlantic Councils rather than by the NMFS Highly Migratory Species Division.
Consistent with the SSA’s earlier recommendations, the Proposed Rule to implement HMS Amendment 3 does not propose any measures for the shrimp fishery and indicates that such measures will be considered by the Gulf and South Atlantic Councils, if any are needed. The SSA then succeeded in securing a decision and letter from the Gulf Council to NMFS confirming that no management action for the shrimp fishery is necessary to address blacknose shark bycatch. The SSA continues to support NMFS efforts to improve the underlying stock assessment for blacknose sharks as well as the scientific understanding of blacknose shark bycatch in the shrimp trawl fisheries.