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Shark Conservation, Science, and Management—The U.S. Leads the Way

View slideshow Gray reef sharks appear grayish-brown with white undersides and a black margin on their tail fin. They have a broadly-rounded snout and very large eyes. Gray reef sharks school during the day, but are more active nocturnally. Credit: Pacific Islands Fisheries Science Center. sharkconservation_01.jpg sharkconservation_02.jpg sharkconservation_03.jpg sharkconservation_04.jpg sharkconservation_05.jpg sharkconservation_06.jpg sharkconservation_07.jpg sharkconservation_08.jpg sharkconservation_09.jpg sharkconservation_10.jpg

The Science Behind Shark Research 

Did You Know? 

In the United States, federal law prohibits “shark finning,” a process of removing shark fins at sea and discarding the rest of the shark. This practice has been prohibited by federal law since 2000, but shark conservation was further strengthened in 2010 when Congress passed the Shark Conservation Act. The Shark Conservation Act requires that all sharks in the United States, with one exception, be brought to shore with their fins naturally attached. Learn more by reading the Shark Finning Report to Congress. 

If You Don’t Know Let it Go 

In the Atlantic, NOAA Fisheries manages more than 40 species of sharks but only some of those sharks can be kept if caught. Commercial and recreational fishermen must have a permit to fish for sharks in federal waters and are also limited in the numbers of sharks they can keep per trip. Sharks can be hard to identify, so if you don’t know what kind of shark it is or if it is legal to keep, it’s best to let it go. Check out our recreational shark ID placard to learn more.

Not only are sharks among the ocean’s top predators and vital to the natural balance of marine ecosystems, they are also a valuable recreational species and food source. To help protect these important marine species, the United States has some of the strongest shark management measures worldwide. NOAA Fisheries works with U.S. regional fishery management councils, commercial and recreational fishermen, academics, environmentalists, and others to conserve and sustainably manage domestic shark fisheries in both the Atlantic Ocean, including the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean Sea, and the Pacific Ocean.

By conducting research, assessing stocks, working with U.S. fishermen, and implementing restrictions when necessary, we sustainably manage shark populations. For overfished shark stocks, we apply management measures to rebuild the stock to a healthy level. Sustainably managed shark fisheries provide opportunities for both commercial and recreational fishermen.

NOAA Fisheries also works with international organizations to get global shark conservation and management measures adopted. In addition to prohibiting shark finning in the United States, we continue to promote a fins naturally-attached policy globally.

U.S. Laws and International Agreements for Shark Conservation

The Shark Conservation Act of 2010 amended the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act, which is the federal law governing the conservation and management of federal fisheries. Along with the suite of conservation and management measures this act requires of all federal fisheries, including shark fisheries, the new additions from the Shark Conservation Act makes the United States a leader in the sustainable management of domestic shark fisheries and the global conservation of sharks.

2013 was marked by a historic conservation milestone for sharks globally. At the 2013 Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) meeting in Bangkok, countries agreed to increase protection for five commercially-exploited species of sharks: oceanic whitetip shark; scalloped, smooth, and great hammerhead sharks; and the porbeagle shark. NOAA Fisheries played a key role in the development and adoption of these proposals. The new requirements became effective on September 14, 2014. Read more

NOAA Fisheries is also working to strengthen protections and support recovery of scalloped hammerhead shark populations. In July 2014 NOAA Fisheries announced new listings under the Endangered Species Act for certain populations of scalloped hammerhead sharks. The final rule lists four Distinct Populations Segments of scalloped hammerhead sharks under the Endangered Species Act:

Read more about the scalloped hammerhead shark listings.

Science Supports Shark Conservation and Management

Globally there is a general lack of data reporting on the catch of sharks, particularly species-specific data. For these reasons, sharks present an array of issues and challenges for fisheries conservation and management both domestically and internationally. Despite the challenges, NOAA Fisheries is committed to achieving sustainable management of sharks. 

NOAA Fisheries conducts scientific research around the United States to collect data to better understand sharks and their biology, populations, and movement patterns. Internationally, we provide technical assistance to other countries in support of their shark conservation efforts, including shark identification and data collection workshops. NOAA Fisheries also collaborates on research promoting science-based management measures and conservation of sharks in our global ocean.