A threatened shark species is poised to see new protections against overfishing under a deal with federal officials, conservation groups and a Native Hawaiian cultural practitioner, according to Earthjustice.

More than 300,000 oceanic whitetip sharks have died as bycatch in commercial fishing nets off Hawaii and American Samoa since 2013, and the species is believed to have declined by as much as 95% since the mid-1990s, according to a release from the nonprofit law organization.

It’s been listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act — but it’s never been designated as “overfished,” the release stated.

The National Marine Fisheries Service has agreed to recognize the oceanic whitetip shark as overfished, according to the nonprofit group Earthjustice. Wikimedia Commons

That designation is crucial, triggering protections, it added.

In April, Earthjustice sued the National Marine Fisheries Service on behalf of the Conservation Council for Hawaii and Michael Nakachi, a cultural practitioner. According to the suit, Nakachi traces his family lineage back to a line of kahu mano, or “shark guardians.”

Now, Earthjustice says that the Fisheries Service has agreed to officially recognize the dwindling species as overfished. The federal agency has already informed the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council, or Wespac, that it must “develop a plan to protect the population internationally.”

Wespac will have a year to make its recommendation, according to the release.

“We wish the officials who oversee marine species would have taken this step years ago to prevent needless shark deaths,” Moana Bjur, executive director of the Conservation Council for Hawaii, said in the release.

“We will now be watching closely to make sure Wespac follows through on its promises and the regulators come up with a plan to restore oceanic whitetip sharks to a healthy population,” Bjur added.

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