A species of shark has been declared at risk by the US, despite decreasing fishing pressure.
The eastern North Pacific basking shark - a species found along the eastern coast of the USA from Canada down to California - has been designated a ‘species of concern’ by the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration's (NOAA) Fisheries Service, due to steep declines in its population numbers.
Observations and fisheries data suggest dramatic declines from the early to mid 1900’s.
Schools in the hundreds and thousands used to occur off the coast of California, but no more than three individual basking sharks have been observed at any one time since 1993 and a similar picture is painted along the coastline with only six confirmed sightings being documented in Canada since 1996.
It is thought that basking shark fisheries off California which were closed in the 1950s and a shark eradication program in Canada which ended in the 1970s are likely to have contributed to the population decline. Recovery of the population is thought to have been hindered by their low intrinsic recovery rate, as well as vessel strikes, fisheries by-catch, and illegal shark finning.
Basking sharks don’t reach sexual maturity until the age of 16-20, and have the longest gestation period of any fish at 2-3 years, so their reproductive rate is relatively low.
In their official press release, the Fisheries Service state:
"We expect that by identifying it as a species of concern we will raise public awareness of the species status, generate interest in additional research to identify factors that may be inhibiting its recovery and, with states and other partners, restore this population before listing under the Endangered Species Act becomes necessary."
The North Pacific basking shark is already listed as Endangered by the IUCN Red List and has been on the Canadian government 'Species at Risk' Register as Endangered since 2007.