Washington, DC

Defenders of Wildlife and the Center for Biological Diversity sent a notice today of their intent to sue NOAA Fisheries for its failure to protect the shortfin mako shark under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). The law requires NOAA Fisheries to determine if ESA listing is warranted for the shortfin mako within 12 months of receiving a listing petition on which it has made a positive 90-day finding. Defenders of Wildlife filed the listing petition on January 25, 2021. NOAA Fisheries issued a positive 90-day finding that listing may be warranted on April 15, 2021, meaning a final determination was due no later than January 25, 2022.    

“The shortfin mako shark is the world’s fastest-swimming shark, but it can’t outrace the threat of extinction,” said Jane Davenport, senior attorney at Defenders of Wildlife. “The government must follow the science and provide much-needed federal protections as quickly as possible. This will demonstrate America’s leadership in fisheries and ocean wildlife conservation both at home and on the world stage.” 

The shortfin mako is a highly migratory species whose geographic range extends throughout the world’s tropical and temperate ocean waters. The shortfin mako shark faces a barrage of threats, especially overfishing from targeted catch and bycatch. The species’ highly valued fins and meat incentivize this overexploitation. Overfishing has resulted in steep population declines in the North and South Atlantic Ocean and slightly more moderate declines in the North Pacific and Indian Oceans. In the North Atlantic, scientists estimate that, even if fishing ceased today, it would take 50 years for the population to recover. The threat of overfishing is compounded by ocean pollution, climate change, and other risk factors driving the species towards extinction.

“NOAA Fisheries failed to protect the shortfin mako despite an international scientific consensus that conservation action is urgently needed,” said Alex Olivera, the Center for Biological Diversity’s Mexico representative and a senior scientist at the Center. “Even as the rest of the world scrambles to save these sharks from extinction, they have no protections under the U.S. Endangered Species Act. That needs to change.”

In 2019, the International Union for Conservation of Nature classified the shortfin mako as “endangered” on its Red List of Threatened Species. In 2021, the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT), an intergovernmental organization responsible for managing tuna populations, announced a two-year ban on retaining, shipping, or landing North Atlantic shortfin mako sharks, preventing fishers from retaining and selling these sharks even when they are unintentionally caught.  

As an apex predator, the shortfin mako is an integral part of the marine food web, regulating the many species below it. Its steep decline will likely cause oceanic ecosystems to suffer. As a long-lived, slow-reproducing species, the shortfin mako cannot quickly rebound from the substantial population losses it has already experienced.

The listing petition requests that NOAA Fisheries consider listing the shortfin mako as an endangered species or a threatened species throughout all or a significant portion of its range and to designate critical habitat within U.S. waters. It also requests that NOAA Fisheries issue a 4(d) rule to give the species statutory protections against unauthorized “take” in the event of a threatened listing, and that the agency also issue a 4(e) rule to protect species similar in appearance, especially the longfin mako shark.

After a positive 90-day finding on a petition to list a species under the ESA, NOAA Fisheries must initiate a status review. Based on its review of the best available scientific and commercial data, NOAA Fisheries must then publish, within 12 months of receipt of the petition, one of three possible determinations: (1) the petitioned action is warranted, in which case the agency publishes a proposed rule and takes public comment; (2) the petitioned action is warranted but precluded by higher-priority listing activities; or (3) the petitioned action is not warranted. The mandatory 12-month deadline is established by statute. 

Today’s notice of intent to sue starts a 60-day litigation-free window during which NOAA Fisheries may resolve its violation of this deadline.

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Additional Media Contact: 
Alex Olivera (Mexico), Center for Biological Diversity, aolivera@biologicaldiversity.org, +52 612-104-0604 

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

Defenders of Wildlife is celebrating 75 years of protecting all native animals and plants in their natural communities. With a nationwide network of nearly 2.2 million members and activists, Defenders of Wildlife is a leading advocate for innovative solutions to safeguard our wildlife heritage for generations to come. For more information, visit defenders.org/newsroom and follow us on Twitter @Defenders.

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