Critically endangered tope sharks under threat

Conservation organizations submitted a petition to the National Marine Fisheries Service on February 15 requesting protection of the tope shark under the Endangered Species Act.

The waters off California, Oregon and Washington offer prime tope shark habitat, and sharks off Southern California face a high risk of bycatch and entanglement in Mexico’s gillnets. Also known as the “soupfin” shark, the tope shark has declined by 88% globally in the past 80 years.

The petition — submitted by Defend Them All and the Center for Biological Diversity — also asks the Service to designate critical habitat essential to the survival and recovery of the tope shark, including its West Coast breeding sites.

“These sharks are spiraling toward extinction because of shark fin soup and a disregard for how many are killed as bycatch in other fisheries,” said Kristin Carden, a Center scientist. 

“Tope sharks need protections in offshore fishing grounds as well as in their nearshore pupping grounds. The federal government has to move quickly to safeguard these incredibly imperiled animals and their West Coast habitat.”

The tope shark is categorized as critically endangered by the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. The species is highly threatened with extinction because of commercial overfishing for liver oil, meat and fins, as well as bycatch and habitat degradation. There has not been a U.S. stock assessment or fishery management plan developed for tope sharks, so their status in the United States is largely unknown.

“The tope shark’s presence is integral to healthy ecosystems; as a top predator, extinction of the species would have disastrous effects on the coastal food chain balance,” said Lindsey Zehel, a Defend Them All attorney. “This petition is a critical first step in the long road to saving this species from preventable extinction.”

The tope shark is long and slender, reaching up to 6 and a half feet long and nearly 100 pounds. The sharks can live up to 60 years and have late maturity — on average at 12.5 years. 

Tope sharks are found in temperate, shallow waters along coastlines around the world, from North America to Australia to the Mediterranean. The entire West Coast of the United States is prime tope shark territory, from La Jolla in San Diego County north to Washington state.

Image credit: iStock/ vchal

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