New US Study Shows Marine Regulations Save Shark and Ray Populations

New US Study Shows Marine Regulations Save Shark and Ray Populations. Source: Unsplash
Reading Time: 2 minutes

New US Study Shows Marine Regulations Save Shark and Ray Populations. Source: Unsplash

Reading Time: 2 minutes

In the ocean, oftentimes, the climate crisis presents itself more than on land. The sharks, rays, and chimeras living in salt water worldwide know this too well. This select group of marine animals is the second most endangered group in the world, behind amphibians. As a result of overfishing, habitat loss, and pollution of coastal waters, there has been a stark decline in shark populations.

However, while many in the environmental movement have advocated for better fisheries management and enforcement of rules, researchers have proven them right in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. The report says that under an adequate management plan, shark populations bounce back even with ongoing pressures from fishing. 

In the United States, fishing is a major economic driver in many seaside and coastal areas. Thousands of fish are caught daily, and even more are imported into the country. Over the past 200 years, new technologies have enabled fishermen to catch more than they ever could, and with that, at the cost of many fish populations in the US and worldwide. It seems like an incredibly complex problem, but the issue is a lot simpler than most people give it credit for. Overfishing seems to be the key driving issue behind the decline in shark and ray populations, but a nation can have a thriving fishing industry and fish population with effective management.

The study shows that when a system of regulations is created, applied, enforced, and monitored, sharks and rays increase. This is compared to other areas that aren’t subject to the same scrutiny, where shark and ray populations have continued to decline. For example, take the Great White Shark. Between 1961 and 1993, the species experienced an annual decline of roughly 0.07% yearly. However, after implementing the management plan, that number fell to 0.01%. This was while fishing continued in the area, which shows that it’s possible to have the best of both worlds while conserving the population.

While the Atlantic US coastal waters have good protections for its sharks, shark populations have declined globally. This indicates that governments elsewhere must contribute to shark conservation. However, this isn’t so easy as the access to funding and resources necessary to conserve shark populations is quite high compared to what the US can spend. A potential way for the US to influence other markets to choose the sustainable option is by setting an example. If the US market began choosing where sharks were being imported from more selectively, it could encourage foreign suppliers to operate more sustainably. 

When species are put on the endangered list, it can often be quite discouraging and depressing for everyday people. Oftentimes the ones endangering those species are incredibly powerful organizations, and in some industries, regulation is nonexistent, allowing those organizations to operate in any way they see fit.

Enforcement of rules is what really discourages those who otherwise would do other species harm, and ultimately it falls on our governments to create those regulations and enforce them. Science indicates that we can adequately protect our marine ecosystems with proper regulations, so it falls on us to demand our representatives apply them. We don’t have a lot of time, though, as if we are slow or complacent, those initiatives will come too little too late. Our animal friends are relying on us, and as much as we will suffer in our climate crisis, they have and will continue to if we do not act. Thankfully, the research shows that fishing and sharks can coexist.

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