Fishery Council: 'Sharks Don't Spend Any Money'

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Pacific reef sharks will swim into oblivion without more regulation and effective enforcement, the latest science says.

But a federal agency that could recommend changes to turn this trend around by closing certain fishing areas or pushing for ways to reduce bycatch is dismissing the findings as overblown.

"What would you rather see, lots of people swimming in the water or lots of sharks?" said Paul Dalzell, a senior scientist with the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council. "Sharks don't spend any money. Isn't it great that millions upon millions upon millions of people have been able to swim at Waikiki with impunity?"

But the sharks are important as the top natural predators on the nearshore reefs, said Andrew Rossiter, who heads Waikiki Aquarium.

"The role they play there is to selectively remove weak, old, sick or injured fishes, thus ensuring that those fish populations living there are, ecologically speaking, in top condition," he said. "It is somewhat akin to an arborist removing stunted branches and dead limbs from a tree to promote the vigor and productivity of a tree or forest."

Marine scientist Marc Nadon of the Joint Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Research at the University of Hawaii and his colleagues estimate that the number of Pacific reef sharks has plummeted 90 percent.

"Our results suggest humans now exert a stronger influence on the abundance of reef sharks than either habitat quality or oceanographic factors," Nadon wrote in a scientific paper published in April.

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