Great white sharks off the coast of California are safer, at least for now
Feb 06, 2013 (San Jose Mercury News - McClatchy-Tribune News Service via COMTEX) --
California's Fish and Game Commission voted unanimously Wednesday to consider a petition to add great white sharks to the state's endangered species list.
The vote immediately bestowed state protection on the sharks pending a final decision, which will come next year after a year of research by the state Department of Fish and Wildlife.
Environmental groups have been alarmed by two recent studies that have estimated the shark population, whose habitat extends from Mexico to Alaska and as far out as Hawaii, at 339 adults and "sub-adults" in counts off the Marin County coast and Mexico.
The commission heard comments from ocean advocacy group representatives, marine biologists and fishermen. The majority of comments were in support of the petition. However, concerns were raised about the accuracy of the recent shark population estimates, as well as how they compare to historic numbers or even whether the population recently has been increasing or decreasing. Ultimately, the commission decided the species is important enough to study the issue further.
"White sharks are iconic ocean creatures," said Michael Sutton, who Wednesday was elected commission president by his colleagues. "As the ocean's top predators, they deserve all the protection we can afford them.
Sutton continued, "The status review will give us better information on the white shark population off the West Coast and threats to its survival. That will give us the ability to make an informed decision about whether or not to list the white shark as endangered under California law."
In 1994, Gov. Pete Wilson banned the hunting of great white sharks up to three miles offshore. In 2011, Gov. Jerry Brown banned the sale or possession of shark fins. Both bans have loopholes that allow the sharks to be killed accidently when caught in the gill nets that some fishermen use to catch halibut.
The move to consider the petition closes that loophole somewhat by requiring gill net fishermen to apply for "incidental take permits" within 90 days or risk being shut down.
Many of the public commenters and some commission commissioners said that in addition to protection from the state of California, great sharks need increased protection in Mexico, where it is currently not illegal to hunt great whites.
The National Marine Fisheries Service will decide next summer whether to include great whites on the federal endangered species list.
(c)2013 San Jose Mercury News (San Jose, Calif.)
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