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Angelsharks Proposed for Endangered Species Act Listing

July 14, 2015
Taylor Jones (720) 443-2615
In This Release
Washington, DC—The National Marine Fisheries Service proposed Endangered Species Act (ESA) listing for three species of angelshark, just in time for Shark Week. The finding,published in the Federal Register today, comes in response to a petition filed two years ago by WildEarth Guardians.

“It’s fantastic to be able to celebrate Shark Week with a step forward for angelsharks,” said Taylor Jones, endangered species advocate for WildEarth Guardians. “Sharks of all kinds are a key part of ocean ecosystems and are increasingly threatened by human activities. These angelsharks need the ecological safety net the Endangered Species Act provides—not more fishing nets.”

The three species of angelshark—the common angelshark (Squatina squatina), sawback angelshark (Squatina aculeata) and smoothback angelshark (Squatina oculata)—have severely declined because of commercial fishing, particularly bottom-trawling. Angelsharks are now rarely seen or absent in most areas where one or more species were once common, including the Iberian coast, Tunisia, Balearic Islands, Aegean Sea, North Sea, Baltic Sea,Black Sea, the English Channel, and large areas of the Mediterranean.

In its listing proposal the Fisheries Service concluded that angelsharks are vulnerable to fishing because they are long-lived and reproduce slowly; removing large,mature angelsharks from the wild can be a huge setback for the population. The Fisheries Service also found existing populations of all three species are most likely small and fragmented, making it harder for them to rebound and repopulate empty habitat. Most of the commercial fisheries impacting the angelsharks are still active. The Fisheries Service proposed to list all three species as “endangered.”

“Our oceans are suffering because of relentless human exploitation, and sharks are some of the hardest-hit species,” continued Jones. “This proposed listing is an important step towards ensuring the health of ocean ecosystems.”

Guardians submitted a petition to list 81 marine species and subpopulations, including the angelsharks, under the ESA in July of 2013 due to significant threats to the oceans. More than half of all marine species may be at risk of extinction by 2100 without significant conservation efforts. Despite this grave situation,the U.S. largely fails to protect marine species under the ESA. Only about 5percent of the more than 2,200 species protected under the ESA are marine species.

Recognizing the decline of ocean health, on July 22, 2010, President Obama issued an Executive Order requiring agencies, including the Fisheries Service, to “protect,maintain, and restore the health and biological diversity of ocean… ecosystems,”and to “use the best available science and knowledge to inform decisions affecting the ocean.” Guardians’ multi-species marine petition seeks to compel the Fisheries Service to live up to this mandate.

Protection under the ESA is an effective safety net for imperiled species: more than 99 percent of plants and animals protected by the law exist today. The law is especially important as a defense against the current extinction crisis; species are disappearing at a rate much higher than the natural rate of extinction due to human activities. Scientists estimate that 227 species would have gone extinct if not for ESA protections. Listing species with global distribution can both protect the species domestically, and help focus U.S. resources toward enforcement of international regulation and recovery of the species.