An Expansion of Observer Program to....
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GRANT NUMBER:  NA57FD0067          NMFS NUMBER:  93-SER-060

REPORT TITLE:  An Expansion of Observer Program to Characterize and Compare the Southeast U.S. Directed Shark Fishery to Include the East Coast of Florida 

AUTHOR:  Branstetter, Steve; Gulf and South Atlantic Fisheries Development Foundation

PUBLISH DATE: August 1996

AVAILABLE FROM:  National Marine Fisheries Service, Southeast Region, 9721 Executive Center Drive, North Koger Building, St. Petersburg, FL 33702.  PHONE: (813) 570-5324


To garner otherwise unobtainable information, and thus enhance the reliability of management strategies, observers aboard voluntarily participating commercial shark vessels documented a sample of the catch and effort of the southeast U.S. commercial shark longline fishery.  Specific to this award, one observer monitored the fishery along the Atlantic coast of Florida from January 1995 through May 1996. During that time, he logged 97 sea days, and monitored 107 longline sets during 30 fishing trips. More important, this effort extended coverage of a region-wide survey.  Since 1994, three observers have logged 460 sea days monitoring 365 longline sets during 127 fishing trips.   Approximately 3,700,000 hook-hours of effort produced over 15,000 sharks of 27 different species; this translated to about 153 metric tons of landings(2.4% of the U.S. commercial shark landings for the period). Two species, blacktip sharks (Carcharhninus limbatus), common inshore of the 10 fathom contour, and sandbar sharks (Carcharhinus plumbeus), dominant in deeper continental shelf waters, constituted 60-75% of the catch and 75-95% of the landings.  Between 15-20% of the large-coastal shark catch was released, and some non-documented mortality catch (catch that is used for bait or discarded) occurred in the fishery; landings accounted for approximately 90% of the total mortality on this stock.  Nearly 100% of the small-coastal shark catch (dominated by the Atlantic sharpnose shark, Rhizoprionodon terraenovae) was landed or used for bait. Within a region, catch rates between years and seasons were, for the most part, not statistically different. For all regions combined, approximately 50% of the documented catch of sandbar and blacktip sharks was immature. Small sandbar sharks were more common inshore of the 10-15 fathom depth range, especially off North Carolina.  Almost all blacktip sharks were taken in shallower (<10 fm) waters. Given the short term nature of this database (2.5 yr), no conclusive trends can be determined concerning the health of the shark stock, but because much of the catch inside 10-15 fathoms is immature fish, and during the spring include pregnant females, continued fishing pressure in nearshore (< 10 fm) waters may have substantial negative impacts on the stock; to the long-term detriment of the stock and fishery. Reduction of fishing effort, either through size limits or area-season closures should reduce mortality on these younger cohorts, thus enhancing stock recovery.

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