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Congressman Wittman introduces legislation to decrease shark depredation

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(The Center Square) – Virginia Rep. Rob Wittman is co-sponsoring legislation designed to decrease shark depredation while protecting sharks from “unsafe conditions and food sources.”

Shark depredation occurs when sharks bite or consume marine animals that fishermen are trying to catch, which both recreational and commercial fishermen experience.

Sharks have surfaced in national legislation in the Shark Finning Prohibition Act of 2000 and the Shark Conservation Act of 2010, and in both cases, the legislation sought to protect sharks.

This time, supporters argue it’s protecting something else – an experience – and promoting safer environments for sharks.

“I introduced the SHARKED Act to improve the environment of our marine life and sportfishing conditions for anglers while protecting sharks from unsafe conditions and food sources,” said Wittman.

A report published late last year by the Virginia Seafood Agriculture and Extension Centers at Virginia Tech found the seafood industry in the commonwealth contributed more than $1.1 billion to the Virginia economy in 2019.

The study found the commonwealth seafood industry provided over 7,000 jobs while generating over $26 million in tax revenue.

Supporting the Health of Aquatic Systems through Research, Knowledge and Enhanced Dialogue Act will “establish a task force to work with fisheries management groups to address the problems posed by increased shark depredation and identify research and funding opportunities for improving the current conditions of shark depredation,” according to a release from Wittman’s office.

Statistics on the frequency of this phenomenon in the U.S. are not readily available, at least to those outside the scientific community. Still, it appears to be more common in recent years than in the past.

Two to three times per year, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the government organization charged with preserving and managing the country’s “ocean resources,” hosts a meeting to discuss conservation and management methods for Atlantic highly migratory species.

In 2020 and 2021, shark depredation emerged among the HMS advisory panel’s discussion items. A research project proposal for studying the subject cites a preliminary NOAA report that showed an increase in shark depredation occurrences in commercial fishing in the Gulf of Mexico from 2007 to 2019.

Yet, despite the increase in shark depredation, studies abound in scientific journals calling for heightened shark conservation efforts. In one such article in Nature in 2021, the authors contend that extinction is a looming possibility for three-quarters of the species, as half of the oceanic shark and ray species appear on the International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List of Threatened Species as endangered or critically endangered.

The Pew Charitable Trust lays blame at the feet of regional fisheries management organizations for “failing to do enough to stop the incidental catch and killing of sharks.” Also, it suggests the adoption of fishing gear and technologies that are less dangerous to sharks.

Supporters argue that if the SHARKED Act can reduce shark interference in recreational and commercial fishing, all parties would benefit.

“While many Virginians benefit from the recreational aspect of fishing, all Virginians benefit from the conservation and economic activity generated by anglers,” according to the Virginia Department of Wildlife Resources. “Virginia is home to or a destination for more than 800,000 anglers each year. Fishing alone is responsible for more than $1.3 billion in economic impact in the state.

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