To Protect or Not to Protect, that is the Question

In my office for the past few weeks there has been a lot of talk about the (West Coast) great white sharks and the possible Endangered Species Act (ESA) listing from the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS). From the perspective of my colleagues at Oceana and many other marine scientists, this subspecies of great whites is endangered, having fewer than 350 adults and threatened by gillnet fisheries. It seemed like a no brainer, the population is declining, the fisheries continue, and their end is near. But, contrary to peer-reviewed research, NMFS decided that there were 200 adult females left, which means they are not endangered, no?

“The federal government simply made the wrong decision in the face of the best available science,” said Geoff Shester, California program director for Oceana. “However, our efforts have demonstrated the dire need for more research on West Coast white sharks, and we should all agree that steps need to be taken immediately to start managing the white shark bycatch problem in gillnet fisheries.”

Of course there are many factors that contribute to the decision of the 8 scientists; from costs for further research to the losses to fisheries, yet it is almost like the federal government is in competition with marine organizations whose sole purpose is to protect species from extinction. So what is the next step?

The response to the petitions has yielded some benefits, including generating more interest in, and dialogue over, white shark research; increased public awareness of the importance of white sharks in the ecosystem and the threats facing them; and significant momentum for regulators to quickly tackle the shark bycatch problem. These may only be incremental steps to protect the majestic species made famous by film Jaws, but everything matters to activists.

Read the Center for Biological Diversity’s response to the decision here.

Great white shark courtesy of National Geographic