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January 23, 2010

New shark problem hits in Gulf of Maine

Small dogfish aren't the only sharks adversely affecting East Coast fishermen.

Bert Jongerden, general manager of the Portland, Maine Fish Exchange, recently contacted Ebb & Flow about a new plague — porbeagle sharks (Lamna nasus) that have been lately costing offshore Gulf of Maine gillnet fishermen thousands of dollars in lost fish and gear. This is happening at a time when fish prices are often cheap, gear,fuel and unemployment are high and groundfishermen have become the endangered species.

The porbeagle problem "...is unbelievable," said Capt. Tim Maguro of Portland, who runs that port's 47-foot gillnetter Shannon Christine with Maine residents Bobby Johnson of Long Island, Devin Bain of Arundel and John Woodbury of Portland.

Once nearly fished out, especially by longlining in the 1960s, "the latest international scientific assessment of the porbeagle shark for the Atlantic Ocean determined that the species was 'overfished,' which means the overall population of this highly-migratory pelagic shark species is not considered healthy or sustainable ...," reports NOAA spokesperson Monica Allen.

Allen said the porbeagle, "...is not listed under Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES)."

"The European Union has submitted a proposal to have porbeagle listed under Appendix 2 of CITES," Allen said. "This would not be a ban on fishing of porbeagle. Listing under Appendix 2 ... would mean that international trade of the species would become regulated ..."

"Lamna nasus meat is high-quality and high-value, particularly in the European Union. Its large fins are valuable," according to online porbeagle literature posted in 2006.

Today, back home, "The market for porbeagles is very bad," reports Lawence Horten, the sword and tuna marketing manager for the John Nagle Co. in Boston. This generations-old company today buys the incidental catches of porbeagles landed by its sword boats.

The National Marine Fisheries Service's Highly Migratory Species Fishery Management Plan limits the capped 223 direct and 285 incidental porbeagle shark fishing permit holders to land no more than 1.7 metric tons of this species annually.

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