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Legal Listing Consultation Workbook for the Atlantic populations of Blue Shark, Shortfin Mako and White Shark

White Shark

The white shark (Carcharodon carcharias) is more commonly referred to as the great white shark and represents the only member of the genus Carcharodon. They have a spindle shaped body which is coloured grey to black above and white below. The color of the iris is distinctly black.  Although the largest captured specimen is between 5 and 5.8 m, there have been reports of white sharks measuring over 7 m. No scientific surveys or studies of this species have been conducted in Canadian waters.

White sharks are found around the world including the northern and tropical waters of both hemispheres. They have been recorded from Newfoundland to Brazil in the western North Atlantic and from the Bering Sea to Mexico in the eastern North Pacific. White sharks are uncommon in Atlantic Canada where they are likely at the northern edge of their range. There are only 32 records of this species either observed or captured in this area since 1874. These records range from off northeast Newfoundland, to the Strait of Belle Isle, the Laurentian Channel, along the Scotian Shelf and into the Bay of Fundy.

White sharks occur in both offshore and inshore areas including bays, harbours and estuaries. While they are found at temperatures from 5 to 270 C and from surface waters to bottom depths of at least 1280 m, their preference appears to be for inshore temperate waters between 14 and 200 C. In Atlantic Canada, they appear more in late summer when the Gulf Stream moves closer inshore.

White sharks are considered to be highly opportunistic feeders, with a wide choice of prey species including boney fishes, skates and rays, and marine mammals along with a variety of invertebrate species, marine birds and reptiles. In Atlantic Canada, white sharks have been recorded feeding on harbour porpoise and grey seals.

Information on the biology of white shark is limited in Canadian waters but data from strandings and bycatch indicate that both mature males and females are present here.  The gestation period is estimated at 14 months with an average litter size of 7 and a maximum of approximately 45 pups during their lifespan.  Pups are large at birth, generally between 1.09 and 1.65 m, which excludes them from being preyed upon by most other marine species.  Males reach sexual maturity between 3.5 and 4.1 m (8 to 10 years). Females mature at lengths between 4 and 5 m (12 to 18 years). The largest white shark recorded in Canadian waters was over 5 m long and weighed 907 kg. They are estimated to live for 23 to 60 years.

COSEWIC assessment

COSEWIC provides the following rationale for designating white shark as endangered (EN):

The species is globally distributed in sub-tropical and temperate waters, but absent from cold polar waters; hence Atlantic and Pacific populations in Canada are isolated from each other and are considered separate designatable units. This very large apex predator is rare in most parts of its range, but particularly so in Canadian waters, which represent the northern fringe of its distribution. There are only 32 records over 132 years for Atlantic Canada. No abundance trend information is available for Atlantic Canada. Numbers have been estimated to have declined by about 80% over 14 years (less than one generation) in areas of the Northwest Atlantic Ocean outside of Canadian waters. The species is highly mobile, and individuals in Atlantic Canada are likely seasonal migrants belonging to a widespread Northwest Atlantic population; hence the status of the Atlantic Canadian population is considered to be the same as that of the broader population. Additional considerations include the long generation time (~23 years) and low reproductive rates (estimated gestation is 14 months and average fecundity is 7 live-born young) of this species, which limit its ability to withstand losses from increase in mortality rates. Bycatch in the pelagic long line fishery is considered to be the primary cause of increased mortality.

Threats to White Shark

Humans have been identified by COSEWIC as the most significant threat to this shark species. White sharks are taken as a sport fish and as bycatch from other pelagic longline fisheries. Their jaws, and teeth are extremely valuable to collectors and the fins are an important item in Asian food and medicine markets. Population studies of white sharks have not been conducted in Canada but with so few occurrences recorded, it is suspected that they are less abundant than in more southerly regions of the United States (US). However, large increases in longlining effort outside of Canada are of concern. The only abundance estimate available is based on longline and tuna fisheries in the southeast US and Caribbean. It indicates a decline of 79% in white shark catch per unit of effort (CPUE).  Abundance trends in other areas of the world are very uncertain.

Protecting White Shark

White sharks are protected globally through several international regulatory policies including the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) that attempts to control over exploitation of threatened and endangered species through a licensing system. In Atlantic Canada there is no directed fishery for white sharks. They are occasionally caught as bycatch in other large pelagic fisheries and come under the Canadian Atlantic Pelagic Shark Integrated Fisheries Management Plan which allows for an unrestricted bycatch along with 100% dockside monitoring. The recreational shark fishery is “catch and release” only unless caught in a fishing derby when carcasses may be kept for scientific purposes.

The practise of “finning”, (removing and keeping the fins to sell while discarding the carcasses) has been prohibited in all Canadian waters since 1994.

Potential Impacts on Stakeholders

If added to the List of Wildlife Species at Risk, white shark will be protected under SARA.  If particular activities are assessed to be a threat to the survival and recovery of a listed species, management measures will be put in place to restrict those activities and ensure the protection of species at risk.

These measures may lead to a variety of impacts on stakeholders, including additional costs.  The following list is not exhaustive; please use this consultation workbook as an opportunity to list any omissions.

Aboriginal

Management strategies that could affect Aboriginal people fishing for food and social purposes and communal commercial fisheries purposes in areas inhabited by white sharks may be considered.

Fishing Industry

It is important to fully determine the extent of potential threats to white sharks by any fishing activities. Once these species are listed, prohibitions will apply to fishing activities identified to be a threat to their survival and recovery. Some level of bycatch may be allowed for fishing activities that take white sharks incidentally, but only if measures are taken to minimize the impact of the activity on these species and the bycatch level will not impede their recovery. Current SARA legislation however, does not permit this bycatch to be retained.

Military Operations

Maritime Forces Atlantic may be asked to prepare guidelines for naval exercises in areas frequented by white sharks. They may be asked to refrain from undertaking specific types of exercises in these areas. As identified in SARA, these requirements would be waived in emergencies or if national security were affected.

Recreational Users

Restrictions and management measures will be imposed to limit recreational activities that may affect the survival and recovery of white shark. The recreational fishery for white shark would not likely continue.

Research Activity

Those wishing to carry out research on white sharks or in areas of their habitat may be required to obtain permits and/or comply with strict guidelines.  This may limit the type and/or duration of research permitted on white sharks and may lengthen the preparation time required for planning research projects. 

Other Activities

Shipping, oil and gas operations and other marine activities may be impacted by listing white shark under SARA.  No specific threats from these or other activities have been identified.  However, if these sharks are listed as suggested by COSEWIC, prohibitions will apply to ALL activities affecting these species.

All proposed marine activities that fall under the Canadian Environmental Assessment Act (CEAA) will need to address the impacts on SARA listed species in accordance with this legislation.

References

COSEWIC 2006. COSEWIC assessment and status report on the white shark (Atlantic population) Carcharodon carcharias in Canada. Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada. Ottawa. vii + 31 pp.

(www.sararegistry.gc.ca/status/showDocument_e.cfm?id=1019)

DFO, 2002. Canadian Atlantic Pelagic Shark Management Plan 2002-2007.