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Sharks in the Gulf: Are We Swimming in Overpopulation? Should a Shark Season Be on the Horizon?

Anglers on the Gulf Coast are raising concerns over an increasing shark population, which is impacting both commercial and recreational fishing. Anglers told NBC 15's Cory Pippin that federal regulations on shark fishing have led to an abundance in the Gulf, resulting in more sharks eating their catch before it's reeled into the boat.

Sharks come in a variety of shapes and sizes. Some have narrow, pointed noses and powerful fins that propel them to high speeds, while others have a broad, flattened nose that probes the ocean floor. After 400 million years of evolution, there are now more than 350 species of sharks worldwide; at least 24 of these swim in the offshore waters of the Gulf of Mexico. Overfishing, habitat loss, and wasteful fishing gear such as surface longlines have resulted in substantial population declines for many shark species. According to the National Marine Fisheries Service, sandbar sharks have been depleted by as much as 71 percent from pre-fished levels. Additional studies have found declines of at least 80 percent for dusky sharks from pre-fished levels and approximately 70 percent for hammerhead sharks since 1981.

The once-depleted shark population in the Gulf of Mexico is rebounding after years of overfishing, but their increasing numbers are interfering with anglers counting on fish for their livelihoods. "They're everywhere. Owning a business, we can kind of try to duck and dodge as much as we can, but the sharks are a major problem," said Dale Woodruff, owner of Class Act Charters in Orange Beach. Some argue that if a season for shark angling were introduced, it would help thin the numbers. However, due to the limited number of anglers targeting sharks, this may only be futile and do more harm than good.

The Solution The Pew Environment Group is working with commercial and recreational fishermen and other conservation groups to encourage state and federal agencies to phase out surface longline fishing for yellowfin tuna and swordfish in the Gulf of Mexico in favor of more selective gear. Shifting to less harmful equipment will promote the recovery of depleted shark populations, protect the resiliency of marine ecosystems, and keep Gulf fishermen in business. Restoration funds from the Deepwater Horizon oil spill could help pay for this gear transition program.

Take Action Today We need your support now. Please visit or join Appleseed Expeditions on an educational marine science program studying sharks and marine wildlife in the Gulf of Mexico or in the Florida Keys. To learn more about educational marine science classes, go to Appleseed Expeditions.

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