Efforts to help the once-abundant oceanic whitetip shark stave off extinction got a slight boost this week as the council that oversees fishing interests across U.S.-controlled Pacific waters voted to ban wire leaders from deep-sea fishing gear.

Replacing those wire leaders at the ends of fishing lines with less-lethal nylon, or monofilament, can increase the chances of survival for the sharks that get hooked, officials say. The nylon material allows them to bite through and free themselves more easily.

On Tuesday, the Western Pacific Regional Fishery Management Council, or Wespac, voted to prohibit the use of wire leaders in the deep-set longline fishery.

Nakachi Shark Kahu Mano
Wespac voted this week to ban wire leaders from the deep-set longline fishery. The move follows a voluntary move last year to ban those leaders by the Hawaii Longline Association. Courtesy: Kaikea Nakachi

The move follows the local longliner industry’s decision late last year to voluntarily replace its wire leaders with nylon ones. The Hawaii Longline Association’s 140 or so vessels inadvertently catch about 1,500 oceanic whitetips a year, according to its executive director, Eric Kingma.

The switch is expected to reduce shark mortalities on those lines by some 30%, according to a Wespac release.

However, to truly save the endangered and overfished shark, the numerous fishing fleets from other nations operating in the Pacific will have to follow suit, officials say.

KerriLynn Miller, an officer for the Pew Charitable Trust’s international fisheries program, said she hoped the recent bans of wire leaders by Wespac and the HLA spur the international fishing community to take similar action.

“To promote recovery of oceanic whitetip across the Pacific, we encourage the U.S. to champion a measure at this year’s Western and Central Pacific Fisheries Commission meeting that would require all vessels, not just those in U.S. waters, to switch to this less harmful gear,” Miller said in a statement Tuesday.

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