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TALLAHASSEE, Florida -- The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) approved a rule Thursday to prohibit all recreational and commercial harvest of lemon sharks from Florida waters. The FWC took this action to protect lemon sharks, because they have a high potential to be overharvested.
Lemon sharks are often found near shore in shallow water, especially in Southeast Florida, where they aggregate in large numbers each year. This makes them easy to locate and raises the potential for large numbers of lemon sharks to be removed from the population with minimal effort by fishermen.
Lemon sharks also are susceptible to overharvest because of their life history characteristics. They are slow-growing, reaching sexual maturity at 12-15 years of age, and have a low reproductive potential, producing 6 to 18 pups per litter every second or third year. Juvenile lemon sharks experience a mortality of 40-60 percent.
Recently, some preliminary data from an ongoing tagging study found that at least 7.5 percent of tagged adult lemon sharks from a Southeast Florida aggregation succumbed to fishing mortality in one season. At that rate, the entire lemon shark aggregation could be harvested in a few years.
In addition, recent regulatory actions for other shark species might put more fishing pressure on lemon sharks in Florida waters, where 90 percent of known lemon shark aggregations occur. The harvest of lemon sharks will still be allowed in offshore federal waters adjacent to state waters.
Healthy lemon shark populations are especially important to Florida’s dive charter industry which provides ecotourism trips to see lemon shark aggregations in the winter months.
The FWC’s lemon shark rule takes effect on March 23.