H-MORRO BAY

Feb 6, 2013 9:46 PM by Connie Tran, KSBY News

Great white shark becomes candidate for state's endangered species list

The great white shark is now a candidate to become one of California's endangered species. The California Fish and Wildlife Commission granted the request for candidacy just before 4pm Wednesday evening in Sacramento.

Center for Biological Diversity, of San Francisco, Oceana, of Monterey, and Shark Stewards, of Forest Knolls petitioned for the nomination since August 2012. The groups said there are only about 339 adult white sharks in the northeastern Pacific, and they said those white sharks are faced with a great risk of extinction.

Local fisherman and Director of Morro Bay Commerical Fisherman's Organization, Jeremiah O'Brien, said he doesn't believe the nomination for the endangered species list will affect the commercial fishing business much, but he said it could impact gillnetting. Gillnetting is when a large net is used to catch fish. O'Brien said he isn't aware of sharks having ever been caught by gillnet fisheries. He also said commercial fisherman do not target white sharks, and there is not a market for them anyway. In fact, he said it's illegal to hunt for white sharks.

But, the three environmental groups said young whites are frequently caught in nets, especially in gillnets. The groups also argue that California's populations of sea lions and seals have been greatly reduced, therefore there is nothing for the white sharks to eat.

O'Brien rebutted, "there is absolutely no market. If a person did catch one [shark], you can't sell it. You're not allowed to catch one anyway, under California law, they're protected as it is."

The Center for Biological Diversity staff attorney Emily Jeffers said her organization is very happy with the Commission's decision, and this is a "good step".

Even though the great white shark is only a candidate at this point, Fish and Wildlife officials said they still get automatic protections as if they were on the endangered species list. The department said they have a year to write up a report to present back to the Commission. In a year, the Commission will decide whether to officially make the shark an endangered species.

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