Ecological Role

Sharks have been roaming the seas for over 400 million years, predating the dinosaurs! They have survived many mass extinctions, including the event that extinguished the dinosaurs about 66 million years ago. Sharks have survived successfully for so long due to their ability to evolve. As a result, sharks have become the ocean’s top predators, also known as apex predators. Most sharks are aggressive apex predators that consume fish, turtles and marine mammals. The exceptions are the whale sharks, the basking sharks and the megamouth sharks, which are all filter feeders that consume plankton.

Apex predators are at the top of the food chain and generally have no natural predators. They play a vital role in maintaining a healthy population of organisms they prey upon. Ecosystems are extremely complex. Even small changes can have significant consequences in a variety of ways. Removing or reducing the population of an apex predator has the potential to upset the population balance of both prey and predators. This can have far-reaching negative consequences throughout the ecosystem.

Sharks had always been the apex predators of the oceans, until humans began refining our ability to harvest marine resources. Technology has improved many aspects of human life, but it has also given us the capacity to over-harvest finite resources.

Shark Fisheries Management

The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) finalized a fishery management plan and began managing the U.S. shark fishery in federal waters in 1993. For more information about the federal management of Atlantic Sharks please visit NOAA Fisheries Atlantic Highly Migratory Species page (link leaves DEC website). Coast wide management of sharks in state waters is regulated by the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission’s (ASMFC) Coastal Shark Management Board. ASMFC Approved the Interstate Fishery Management Plan for Atlantic Coastal Sharks in 2008. For more information about coast wide shark species management in state waters, please visit the ASMFC’s Coastal Sharks webpage (link leaves DEC website).

More about Shark Fishing: