Tuesday, September 1, 2009

Smalltooth sawfish gets federal protection in Southwest Florida waters

NAPLES — They are not cute and cuddly, but the smalltooth sawfish is getting
more federal protection in Southwest Florida waters.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration announced Monday that it
is designating more than 840,000 acres of critical habitat between Charlotte
Harbor and Florida Bay for the endangered marine fish.

The designation, which takes effect Oct. 2, doesn’t restrict fishing or boating access, but projects such as marinas or dredging must clear another federal permitting hurdle if they are proposed within the critical habitat boundary.

“Species such as the smalltooth sawfish have a much greater chance at
recovery once critical habitat is designated,” said Miyoko Sakashita, an
attorney representing the Center for Biological Diversity in San Francisco.

The group sued the federal government for missing a deadline to establish
critical habitat for the smalltooth sawfish. A 2007 settlement resulted in
the critical habitat designation.

Scientists do not know how many smalltooth sawfish are left, but historic
catch records show they once ranged from Texas to New York. South Florida is
their last stronghold.

In 2003, the animal named for its saw-like snout, or rostrum, became the
first marine to be listed as an endangered species.

A relative of sharks and rays, the smalltooth sawfish was overharvested as a
curiosity. Its rostrum also makes it vulnerable to entanglement in fishing nets.

The critical habitat designation seeks to protect the shallow estuaries that
are important nursery grounds for juvenile sawfish and key to their
survival, biologists say.

The designation covers 221,000 acres in the Caloosahatchee River, San Carlos
and Estero bays, Charlotte Harbor and Pine Island Sound and covers 619,000
acres in the Ten Thousand Islands south of Marco Island to Florida Bay.

Shark researcher Patrick O’Donnell has caught 20 or so of the sharp-nosed
creatures in the past 10 years.

“It doesn’t surprise me, but it gets the whole crew excited that’s for
sure,” said O’Donnell, an environmental specialist with the Rookery Bay
National Estuary Research Reserve between Naples and Marco Island.

Regulators drew the critical habitat boundaries to include red mangrove
shorelines and waters less than 3 feet deep and marked by wide variations in

“We’re going to try to protect these features and minimize the impacts to
them,” NOAA Fisheries smalltooth sawfish biologist Shelley Norton said.

Without the designation, projects that need federal permits or get federal
funding have needed only to prove that they would not jeopardize the
continued existence of the smalltooth sawfish.

For example, federal reviewers required a Sanibel Island dredging project to
use a cut with side slopes to mimic natural conditions, Fort Myers marine
engineer Hans Wilson said.

Wilson, vice president of the Southwest Florida Marine Industry Association,
said attorneys afraid of being sued by environmental groups have too large a
role in permitting decisions.

“I’m not sure it’s about biology,” he said.

It’s too early to say how big a hurdle the critical habitat designation
might pose, Florida Marine Contractors Association past president Mike Jones

“We don’t really need another layer of regulation at this time and with the
way that the economy is and all,” Jones, a Fort Myers marine contractor, said.

Complete Story

SFMI catches the eye of “Sportfishing Magazine”

September 1, 2009
By Doug Olander (More articles by this author)

That news item caught my attention when I saw it online. It’s no secret that many species of large sharks are in varying degrees of trouble worldwide. The primary culprit is the by-now infamous practice of finning — hacking off the fins of sharks (often while they’re still alive) and tossing the body back to sink and decompose on the ocean floor.

The practice has been widely banned but
(a) not before many shark stocks were severely impacted;
(b) it’s still legal in many areas; and
(c) it’s still widely practiced (in largely unpatrolled waters) where it’s not legal.

The motivation for the barbaric and wasteful practice is an old one: greed.

Shark fins bring relatively big bucks on the Asian market: think shark-fin soup. A few pounds of fins are worth more than a few hundred pounds of shark meat — and even a small boat can bring in a lot of fins, representing tons of dead sharks.

Recent estimates have put that tonnage of sharks killed each year for their fins as high as 100 million; however, a recent study suggests a figure of about 38 million tons. Either way, it bodes ill for these ecologically vital apex predators.

In this context, it’s interesting to see the formation of the nonprofit group Shark-Free Marinas (www.sharkfreemarinas.com), intent on “reducing worldwide shark mortality” by persuading marinas to sign on with a pledge to prohibit the landing of any shark.

Of course, the recreational fishery — even at the half-million sharks killed per year by one estimate — represents but a fraction of the worldwide shark-finning massacre. Some might argue that for this very reason, it’s pointless to bother even trying to dissuade anglers from bringing back large sharks to hang up on the scales for a weight and photo or to score points in a shark tournament.

Miami’s famous and (more often) infamous skipper, Mark the Shark, might be one who’d make that argument. Well known for encouraging his clients to kill just about any large shark they hook, the ironically self-named skipper claims on his website that thanks to his unequalled expertise on capturing sharks, his dead sharks have “been a great benifit [sic] to science.”

Those trying to convince marinas worldwide to forbid off-loading large dead sharks would say otherwise. Their efforts have a long way to go, but several marinas — in the United States, Bahamas and Fiji — had signed on as of this writing.

Recently, other actions suggest an increasing awareness among the mainstream recreational-fishing community that populations of large, slow-growing sharks are in a tenuous position (with the National Marine Fisheries Service officially considering most species overfished in the Atlantic) and need help. And, of course, in addition to doing what they feel is the right thing, many believe it’s the smart thing.

While slaughtering and hanging up dead sharks so a client can get a photo and tourists can gawk may work for Mark the Shark, a broader view is that hanging up big, dead sharks fosters a public perception of recreational fishing as a sport of greed and carnage and plays right into the hands of concerned, hard-core green groups trying to close off the ocean to angling.

For this reason, it was gratifying to learn recently that the International Game Fish Association is considering a proposal — submitted by IGFA board member Guy Harvey — to stop keeping world records for tiger sharks and great hammerheads.

Also, Gray’s Taxidermy, one of the largest providers of fish mounts, has finally announced that it would no longer accept sharks or any parts of them for fish mounts, finally joining some other progressive taxidermists who years ago began making only fiberglass-replica mounts. Charter skippers who work with Gray’s have lost one excuse to kill sharks.

It seems that the pendulum among sport fishermen continues to swing gradually toward not killing large sharks. But it has a long way to go. Among charter skippers and some private boaters, there remains the sentiment that killing an occasional large shark is insignificant in the scheme of things and that as long as the only fish killed are taken legally, doing so bears no shame. In fact, there are most assuredly those (both among recreational fishermen and the general public) who feel the only good shark is a dead shark.

I admit I’m not one of those sharing that mentality. I applaud shark-free marinas for their efforts. Ditto anglers who carry cameras and, should they wrestle in a huge shark, take home photos of the great fish boat-side — before its successful release. Those who find it profitable to hang up dead sharks may help their income in the short term but, in the long term, can only hurt everyone else who loves the sport of fishing.

Original article here

Whale Shark Tagging Expedition - Only the Adventurous Need Apply

Los Angeles, CA (PRWEB) August 31, 2009 -- Have you ever wondered what it would be like to swim with sharks? Join Iemanya Oceanica for its first public shark-tagging trip and find out. Iemanya Oceanica is a nonprofit organization headquartered in Los Angeles and dedicated to shark and marine conservation. On October 15, 2009, you can join the research team as they travel to the beautiful and remote village of Bahia de Los Angeles on the Sea of Cortez in Baja California, Mexico. "We hope to tag two whale sharks on this trip, which should take about three days," says Laleh Mohajerani, Iemanya's Executive Director. "Tagging is one of the first and most important steps towards conservation. Through tagging, we can learn about these majestic creatures and influence sustainable management policies."

Whale sharks are the largest living fish species on the planet. They are slow moving filter feeders and can grow to up to 40 feet long (12.2 M) and weigh up to 15 tons. Whale sharks are believed to have originated around 60 million years ago, and are found in tropical and warm oceans. They can live for up to 70 years, and although they have very large mouths, they are harmless, feeding solely on plankton, which are microscopic marine plants and animals. "The purpose of the whale shark expedition is to create more awareness about the ocean and to encourage support for research and education about the ocean," says Ms. Mohajerani.

The Whale Shark Expedition is October 15-19, 2009. The all-inclusive trip and will feature luxury motor coach transportation to and from Los Angeles to Bahia de Los Angeles; a welcome beachfront cocktail reception; all local transportation; hotel accommodations; all you can eat gourmet meals prepared fresh; drinks; access to the area research station; presentations by the researchers and local museum director; tour of the history museum; a visit to the turtle hatchery; optional fishing trip; excursions to off-shore islands for bird watching and ancient cave paintings; and free time for snorkeling and the beach.

Iemanya Oceanica is an international nonprofit organization committed to protecting marine life, especially sharks and rays, and improving the quality of life for those who depend on sustainable marine resources.

The all-inclusive Whale Shark Tagging Expedition is $1,599.00 per person. Space is extremely limited, so apply now by contacting Laleh Mohajerani at 818-224-4250.

For more information about shark and ocean conservation or Iemanya Oceanica¹s Whale Shark Tagging Expedition, please visit www.iemanya.org. Shark images, footage and tips for protecting yourself against a shark attack are also available.