Species Spotlight: Porbeagle Shark
Common name: Porbeagle Shark
The porbeagle shark is one of the fastest swimmers in the sea, but it can’t out swim the commercial fishermen who come to the Northwest Atlantic from around the world looking for its highly-valued meat. The shark’s population is nearly its lowest ever, but things are looking up for this endangered species. Thanks to major cuts in fishing quotas of the porbeagle shark over the last several years, it is slowly recovering.
In 1961, the porbeagle shark was plentiful in the Northwest Atlantic. But in just six short years of hard fishing, Norwegian fishermen drove the population down to unsustainable numbers. Over the next 30 years, a few hundred tonnes were caught each year until the Canadian fishermen got involved and increased the catch to as much as 2000 tonnes a year.
Steven Campana, senior scientist at the Bedford Institute of Oceanography and head of the Canadian Shark Research Lab, says the quota was cut by 80 per cent in 1998. It was cut back even further in 2001 and 2006. “Now the quota from all sources is 250 tonnes of which 185 tonnes can be from the direct fishery and the remainder is reserved for porbeagles that are caught accidentally.”
Campana says the porbeagle is notable for sharing many life history characteristics with humans. For instance, female porbeagles become sexually mature at 13 and have a gestation period of nine months. They also produce very few young compared to other sharks; about four at a time. They live to be about 40 years old in our waters, but in New Zealand they can live to be about 70. Given its late maturity and low fecundity, this species is particularly vulnerable to overexploitation.
Campana says the porbeagle is one group of sharks we can proudly call Canadian. “It’s not one that spends most of its time in international waters; it spends most of its time in Canadian waters.”
What is Being Done
The biggest step in saving the porbeagle shark was taken in 1998 when fishing quotas were cut by 80 per cent. Apart from the further quota reductions, which Campana says commercial fishermen have been very supportive of, one fishing area has been closed. When the Department of Fisheries and Oceans realized through their research of this species that the area south of Newfoundland was a mating area for the porbeagles, they closed it to all shark fishing.
“This is one of the few examples where it’s very tough for the general public to help much,” says Campana. “The majority of porbeagles are well offshore and down deep, 100 m or so. The average person is never ever going to run into one; even recreational fisherman will seldom catch one. So really, the only people who run into porbeagles are the commercial fishermen who are looking for them.”
Campana says fishermen have been quite careful about releasing one year old sharks. “They want them to live and they put them back carefully.”
What You Can Do
Melanie Furlong is a freelance writer in Lower Sackville, Nova Scotia.
Share this page: