| LOS ANGELES, March 1
LOS ANGELES, March 1 Great white sharks off the
coast of California gained protection on Friday as regulations
took effect designating them candidates for future listing under
the state's Endangered Species Act.
The world's largest predatory fish has been off-limits to
commercial and sport fishing under California law since 1994.
But great whites, particularly as juveniles, are still caught as
unintentional "bycatch" in gill-net fishing for halibut,
swordfish and white sea bass off California and Mexico's Baja
Under the sharks' new status, gill-net fishermen will be
required to obtain special state bycatch permits allowing the
incidental snaring of great white sharks.
Those permits are likely to entail certain restrictions on
gill-net fishing, such as limits on the amount of time nets can
be in the water, where they can be placed and how many sharks
can be caught before fishing is ordered halted, state Fish and
Wildlife Department biologist Traci Larinto said.
Violations would be treated as criminal misdemeanors, but it
was not yet clear what penalties such an offense would carry.
Before Wednesday, there were no limits on bycatch and no
penalties for incidental killing of great whites, though
fishermen were supposed to throw surviving sharks back or turn
them over to scientists studying the species.
The five-member California Fish and Game Commission voted
unanimously on Feb. 6 to name the great white shark as the first
marine animal granted candidate designation under the state
Endangered Species Act.
If formally listed, fishery management bodies would be
required to develop measures to minimize bycatch. In the
meantime, candidate status carries the same legal force as an
BALANCED MARINE ENVIRONMENT
The panel acted after environmental groups presented data
collected in 2011 and 2012 showing adults and sub-adults of the
species numbering fewer than 340 in two principal feeding
grounds off central California and Baja.
The survey, the first tally of great whites along the U.S.
Pacific Coast, provided no comparison numbers.
Commercial fishing industry groups have questioned whether
the tally, which may seem small, might actually reflect a
healthy number for an apex marine predator, and whether it
represents a growing or shrinking population.
Larinto cited recent figures suggesting that more than half
of young great whites snared in gill-nets survive. Of 94 snared
as bycatch and turned over to scientists between 2006 and 2011,
55 were later released alive, most of them with research tags.
Zeke Grader, a spokesman for the Pacific Coast Federation of
Fishermen's Associations, said fishermen and environmentalists
share an interest in keeping great white populations healthy
since they are vital to maintaining a balanced marine
For instance, great whites are important in controlling the
population of sea lions and other marine mammals that prey on
salmon and other commercially valuable fish, Grader said.
Scientists consider the West Coast population of the shark
to be genetically distinct and isolated from other great whites
worldwide, thought to number several thousand off Australia,
South Africa, New Zealand and in the Atlantic Ocean. Australia
and South Africa have listed their great whites as endangered.
The Fish and Wildlife Department will recommend by next
February whether great whites warrant formal listing, with the
Fish and Game Commission making the final decision.
Environmental groups also seek to list California's great whites
under the U.S. Endangered Species Act.
While the great white is among three shark species most
associated with attacks on humans - along with bull sharks and
tiger sharks - such encounters are exceedingly rare. But great
whites hold a special place in the popular imagination due
mainly to their size, with some specimens known to have reached
20 feet (6 meters) in length and 5,000 pounds (2,268 kg).
(Editing by Cynthia Johnston)