Large sharks are top predators in most coastal and marine ecosystems throughout the world, and evidence of their reduced prominence in marine ecosystems has been a serious concern for fisheries and ecosystem management. Unfortunately, quantitative data to document the extent, timing, and consequences of changes in shark populations are scarce, thwarting examination of long-term (decadal, century) trends, and reconstructions based on incomplete data sets have been the subject of debate. Absence of quantitative descriptors of past ecological conditions is a generic problem facing many fields of science but is particularly troublesome for fisheries scientists who must develop specific targets for restoration. We were able to use quantitative measurements of shark sizes collected annually and independently of any scientific survey by thousands of recreational fishermen over the last century to document decreases in the size of large sharks from the northern Gulf of Mexico. Based on records from fishing rodeos in three U.S. coastal states, the size (weight or length) of large sharks captured by fishermen decreased by 50–70% during the 20 years after the 1980s. The pattern is largely driven by reductions in the occurrence and sizes of Tiger Sharks Galeocerdo cuvier and Bull Sharks Carcharhinus leucas and to a lesser extent Hammerheads Sphyrna spp. This decrease occurred despite increasing fishing effort and advances in technology, but it is coincident with the capitalization of the U.S. commercial shark long-line fishery in the GOM.
Marine and Environmental Sciences
Sean P. Powers, F. Joel Fodrie, Steven B. Scyphers, J. Marcus Drymon, Robert L. Shipp & Gregory W. Stunz (2013) Gulf-Wide Decreases in the Size of Large Coastal Sharks Documented by Generations of Fishermen, Marine and Coastal Fisheries, 5:1, 93-102, DOI:10.1080/19425120.2013.786001
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