The National Marine Fisheries Service is reclassifying the conservation status of the Scalloped Hammerhead Shark. Due to the high commercial demand for its fin and flesh, four hammerhead populations have become either threatened or endangered.
Because of the high fiber content in their fins, Scalloped Hammerheads have become a popular ingredient in shark fin soup. “Finning” crews will fish for sharks, cut off their fins and then throw them back in the ocean. The disabled sharks often drown or die of starvation. Both juvenile and adult sharks are taken this way.
Scalloped Hammerheads already exhibit a low rate of reproduction. Couple that with the removal of juvenile and mature sharks and the species is in danger of disappearing. “Of course, if you take away all of the small ones, then you don’t get any big ones, and then your population starts to really decline dramatically,” says Carl Meyer, a shark researcher at the Hawaii Institute for Marine Biology.
In September, the new classifications for the sharks will take effect. Hammerheads in the Southwest Atlantic and Indo-West Pacific will be classified as threatened whereas Hammerheads in the East Atlantic and East Pacific will be considered endangered.
The new classifications require federal agencies to protect these populations from habitat destruction and overfishing. Under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, trade in Scalloped Hammerheads will only be allowed with legal permits and under restricted circumstances.
The new classification of these shark populations is due in part to a petition filed by the environmental groups WildEarth Guardians and Friends of Animals.
Scalloped Hammerheads are actually the most common hammerhead species found in Hawai’i, but that population is actually thriving due to a lack of commercial interest in the shark.