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Sharks are especially vulnerable to habitat destruction and fishing pressure because they have slow rates of maturation and reproductive turnover. Sharks are unusually long lived and give birth to relatively minuscule numbers of young when compared to other types of fish. Many species breed only every other year and have 13 month gestation periods.

Because sharks have been so efficient as predators and foragers they are a phenomenally successful group of animals that have gotten away with such low reproductive rates; however, the introduction of modern fishing methods and industrial fallout have been devastating to shark populations world-wide.

Shark populations are slow to recover from over-harvesting and several U.S. species are considered threatened or endangered with regional extinction. Virtually all historic commercial shark fisheries in the U.S. and abroad have ended in the population crash of the species of shark being targeted. Historically, commercial shark fisheries have exhibited a boom/bust cycle of over-harvest and decline where the fishery invariably ends with an abrupt and resounding crash.

While commercial fishing mortality of sharks in U.S. waters has averaged 20,000 metric tons per year, computer modeling and statistical analysis indicates that anything above 10-12,000 metric tons will eclipse the targeted sharks species abilities to reproduce at sustainable rates. According to National Oceanic Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), between the early 1970's and late 1980's the abundance of many of many shark species found along the southeast coast of the U.S. has declined as much as 80 percent.

In addition to being directly targeted in various commercial and recreational fisheries throughout the world, sharks are all too often captured incidentally as by-catch in tuna and billfish fisheries. Shark by-catch in large-scale high-seas fisheries around the world could be as much as 50% of the reported take of commercial shark fisheries. The number of sharks caught annually by various high-seas fisheries between 1989 and 1991 has been estimated at 11.6 to 12.7 million. To this day a complete accounting of shark and ray catches is lacking all the while the fisheries continue to expand.

In many cases this by-catch is discarded. It is also estimated that numerous high-seas commercial fisheries discard more than 210,000 metric tons of elasmobranches annually. The oceans of the world are being purged of sharks and large fish. The demand for shark meat, fins, and cartilage are at an all time high. World population of humans is at an all time high and continues to grow. There has been little or nothing at all done on the international level. While the UN has rendered oversized drift gill-nets illegal there is inadequate enforcement and a lack of overall judicial fortitude regarding high seas poaching and over-harvesting. Some nations have taken steps independently but these efforts are often last resorts applied to an already crashing shark fishery. Local independent grass-roots education and advocacy are crucial to the efforts of wildlife conservationists and management officials. Scientific research is crucial to our understanding and protection of sharks from over exploitation. Many important species, which are protected on a local or regional basis, are now understood to be highly migratory and therefore exposed to fisheries and poaching pressures outside of those relative protected zones. A more comprehensive monitoring and management plan is needed to address these issues in order to assure the future presence of the worlds sharks, the great fishes and sea turtles.

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