SSL Goes to Bat for the Common Thresher

On March 3, 2015, the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) issued a positive 90-day finding on a petition to list the common thresher shark under the Endangered Species Act.  Based on information in the petition and available in NMFS’ files, NMFS found substantial evidence to suggest that a worldwide listing of the common thresher may be warranted.  NMFS placed particular emphasis on the common thresher’s continued decline due to recreational fishing, commercial fishing, by-catch, and direct catch associated with the trade in shark fins.

The common thresher stands out with its unique, whip-like caudal fin.

The common thresher stands out with its unique, whip-like caudal fin.

A thresher fin at market

A thresher fin at market

Although the positive 90-day finding is good news for the common thresher — and this shark could use some good news — it is too early to celebrate.  Under the ESA, a positive 90-day finding is simply a threshold decision indicating that further evaluation is merited.  Later, at the 12-month stage, NMFS could ultimately decide to reject the petition.

To bolster the case for listing, Sea Shepherd Legal (SSL) joined forces with original petitioner Friends of Animals, as well as with Turtle Island Restoration Network and WildEarth Guardians.  We submitted extensive comments canvassing the many threats to the common thresher.  In particular, we highlighted the following factors:

  • Sharp population declines in significant portions of the common thresher’s range:  For example, recent studies of common thresher shark populations in two major regions, the North Atlantic and the Mediterranean Sea, strongly suggest that the population has declined in these regions by 80% and 99%, respectively.
  • Overfishing by both the commercial and recreational sectors:  Thresher species (including the common thresher shark) make up approximately 2.3% of the Hong Kong shark fin market—the largest shark fin market in the world.  This equates to approximately 0.5 to 4.5 million sharks per year.  Recreational fisherman have also taken their toll.  The majority of recreationally-caught common thresher sharks are captured using a caudal-­based technique, in which the hook is placed in the shark’s tail fin and the fish is reeled in backwards.  This technique is incompatible with the shark’s respiratory system, which requires forward movement.  Caudal-based techniques are associated with high fatality rates, yet they continue to lead the pack in terms of popularity.
  • The inadequacy of existing regulatory mechanisms:  Protective regulations exist in a limited number of jurisdictions, and even then enforcement is often weak and ineffective.
  • The common thresher’s intrinsic vulnerability:  Like most pelagic sharks, the common thresher is particularly vulnerable due to its long gestation period, slow growth, and relatively low fecundity.

Help us protect the common thresher and other sharks by making a donation.

Nota: Una traducción al español estará disponible muy pronto.

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