[Federal Register Volume 78, Number 81 (Friday, April 26, 2013)]
[Proposed Rules]
[Pages 24701-24707]
From the Federal Register Online via the Government Printing Office [www.gpo.gov]
[FR Doc No: 2013-09943]


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DEPARTMENT OF COMMERCE

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration

50 CFR Parts 223 and 224

[Docket No. 130213133-3133-01]
RIN 0648-XC508


Endangered and Threatened Wildlife; 90-Day Finding on Petitions 
To List the Great Hammerhead Shark as Threatened or Endangered Under 
the Endangered Species Act

AGENCY: National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), National Oceanic and 
Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), Commerce.

ACTION: 90-day petition finding, request for information, and 
initiation of status review.

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SUMMARY: We, NMFS, announce a 90-day finding on two petitions to list 
the great hammerhead shark (Sphyrna mokarran) range-wide or, in the 
alternative, the Northwest Atlantic distinct population segment (DPS) 
or any other identified DPSs as threatened or endangered under the 
Endangered Species Act (ESA), and to designate critical habitat. We 
find that the petitions and information in our files present 
substantial scientific or commercial information indicating that the 
petitioned action may be warranted. We will conduct a status review of 
the species to determine if the petitioned action is warranted. To 
ensure that the status review is comprehensive, we are soliciting 
scientific and commercial information pertaining to this species from 
any interested party.

DATES: Information and comments on the subject action must be received 
by June 25, 2013.

ADDRESSES: You may submit comments, information, or data on this 
document, identified by the code NOAA-NMFS-2013-0046, by any of the 
following methods:
     Electronic Submissions: Submit all electronic comments via 
the Federal eRulemaking Portal. Go to www.regulations.gov/#!docketDetail;D=NOAA-NMFS-2013-0046, click the ``Comment Now!'' icon, 
complete the required fields, and enter or attach your comments.
     Mail: Submit written comments to Office of Protected 
Resources, NMFS, 1315 East-West Highway, Silver Spring, MD 20910.
     Fax: 301-713-4060, Attn: Maggie Miller.
    Instructions: Comments sent by any other method, to any other 
address or individual, or received after the end of the comment period, 
may not be considered by NMFS. All comments received are a part of the 
public record and will generally be posted for public viewing on 
www.regulations.gov without change. All personal identifying 
information (e.g., name, address, etc.), confidential business 
information, or otherwise sensitive information submitted voluntarily 
by the sender will be publicly accessible. NMFS will accept anonymous 
comments (enter ``N/A'' in the required fields if you wish to remain 
anonymous). Attachments to electronic comments will be accepted in 
Microsoft Word, Excel, or Adobe PDF file formats only.

FOR FURTHER INFORMATION CONTACT: Maggie Miller, NMFS, Office of 
Protected Resources, (301) 427-8403.

SUPPLEMENTARY INFORMATION: 

Background

    On December 21, 2012, we received a petition from WildEarth 
Guardians (WEG) to list the great hammerhead shark (Sphyrna mokarran) 
as threatened or endangered under the ESA throughout its entire range, 
or, as an alternative, to list any identified DPSs as threatened or 
endangered. The petitioners also requested that critical habitat be 
designated for the great hammerhead under the ESA. On March 19, 2013, 
we received a petition from Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) to 
list the northwest Atlantic DPS of great hammerhead shark as 
threatened, or, as an alternative, to list the great hammerhead shark 
range-wide as threatened, and to designate critical habitat. The joint 
U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (USFWS)/NMFS Endangered Species Act 
Petition Management Guidance (1996) states that if we receive two 
petitions for the same species, the requests only differ in the 
requested status of the species, and a 90-day finding has not yet been 
made on the earlier petition, then the later petition will be combined 
with the earlier petition and a combined 90-day finding will be 
prepared. Since the initial petition requested listing of the species 
as threatened or endangered and the second petition only requested a 
threatened listing, and a finding has not been made on the initial 
petition, we have combined the WEG and NRDC petitions and this 90-day 
finding will address both. Copies of the petitions are available upon 
request (see ADDRESSES, above).

ESA Statutory, Regulatory, and Policy Provisions and Evaluation 
Framework

    Section 4(b)(3)(A) of the ESA of 1973, as amended (16 U.S.C. 1531 
et seq.), requires, to the maximum extent practicable, that within 90 
days of receipt of a petition to list a species as threatened or 
endangered, the Secretary of Commerce make a finding on whether that 
petition presents substantial scientific or commercial information 
indicating that the petitioned action may be warranted, and to promptly 
publish such finding in the Federal Register (16 U.S.C. 1533(b)(3)(A)). 
When it is found that substantial scientific or commercial information 
in a petition indicates that the petitioned action may be warranted (a 
``positive 90-day finding''), we are required to promptly commence a 
review of the status of the species concerned during which we will

[[Page 24702]]

conduct a comprehensive review of the best available scientific and 
commercial information. In such cases, we conclude the review with a 
finding as to whether, in fact, the petitioned action is warranted 
within 12 months of receipt of the petition. Because the finding at the 
12-month stage is based on a more thorough review of the available 
information, as compared to the narrow scope of review at the 90-day 
stage, a finding that the ``petition presents substantial scientific or 
commercial information that the action may be warranted'' at this point 
does not predetermine the outcome of the status review.
    Under the ESA, a listing determination may address a species, which 
is defined to also include subspecies and, for any vertebrate species, 
any DPS that interbreeds when mature (16 U.S.C. 1532(16)). A joint 
NMFS-USFWS (jointly, ``the Services'') policy (DPS Policy) clarifies 
the agencies' interpretation of the phrase ``distinct population 
segment'' for the purposes of listing, delisting, and reclassifying a 
species under the ESA (61 FR 4722; February 7, 1996). A species, 
subspecies, or DPS is ``endangered'' if it is in danger of extinction 
throughout all or a significant portion of its range, and 
``threatened'' if it is likely to become endangered within the 
foreseeable future throughout all or a significant portion of its range 
(ESA sections 3(6) and 3(20), respectively, 16 U.S.C. 1532(6) and 
(20)). Pursuant to the ESA and our implementing regulations, we 
determine whether species are threatened or endangered based on any one 
or a combination of the following five section 4(a)(1) factors: (1) The 
present or threatened destruction, modification, or curtailment of 
habitat or range; (2) overutilization for commercial, recreational, 
scientific, or educational purposes; (3) disease or predation; (4) 
inadequacy of existing regulatory mechanisms; and (5) any other natural 
or manmade factors affecting the species' existence (16 U.S.C. 
1533(a)(1), 50 CFR 424.11(c)).
    ESA-implementing regulations issued jointly by the Services (50 CFR 
424.14(b)) define ``substantial information'' in the context of 
reviewing a petition to list, delist, or reclassify a species as the 
amount of information that would lead a reasonable person to believe 
that the measure proposed in the petition may be warranted. In 
evaluating whether substantial information is contained in a petition, 
the Secretary must consider whether the petition: (1) Clearly indicates 
the administrative measure recommended and gives the scientific and any 
common name of the species involved; (2) contains detailed narrative 
justification for the recommended measure, describing, based on 
available information, past and present numbers and distribution of the 
species involved and any threats faced by the species; (3) provides 
information regarding the status of the species over all or a 
significant portion of its range; and (4) is accompanied by the 
appropriate supporting documentation in the form of bibliographic 
references, reprints of pertinent publications, copies of reports or 
letters from authorities, and maps (50 CFR 424.14(b)(2)).
    Judicial decisions have clarified the appropriate scope and 
limitations of the Services' review of petitions at the 90-day finding 
stage, in making a determination that a petition presents substantial 
information indicating the petitioned action ``may be'' warranted. As a 
general matter, these decisions hold that a petition need not establish 
a ``strong likelihood'' or a ``high probability'' that a species is 
either threatened or endangered to support a positive 90-day finding.
    We evaluate the petitioners' request based upon the information in 
the petition including its references and the information readily 
available in our files. We do not conduct additional research, and we 
do not solicit information from parties outside the agency to help us 
in evaluating the petition. We will accept the petitioners' sources and 
characterizations of the information presented if they appear to be 
based on accepted scientific principles, unless we have specific 
information in our files that indicates the petition's information is 
incorrect, unreliable, obsolete, or otherwise irrelevant to the 
requested action. Information that is susceptible to more than one 
interpretation or that is contradicted by other available information 
will not be dismissed at the 90-day finding stage, so long as it is 
reliable and a reasonable person would conclude it supports the 
petitioners' assertions. In other words, conclusive information 
indicating that the species may meet the ESA's requirements for listing 
is not required to make a positive 90-day finding. We will not conclude 
that a lack of specific information alone negates a positive 90-day 
finding if a reasonable person would conclude that the unknown 
information itself suggests an extinction risk of concern for the 
species at issue.
    To make a 90-day finding on a petition to list a species, we 
evaluate whether the petition presents substantial scientific or 
commercial information indicating that the subject species may be 
either threatened or endangered, as defined by the ESA. First, we 
evaluate whether the information presented in the petition, along with 
the information readily available in our files, indicates that the 
petitioned entity constitutes a ``species'' eligible for listing under 
the ESA. Next, we evaluate whether the information indicates that the 
species faces an extinction risk that is cause for concern; this may be 
indicated in information expressly discussing the species' status and 
trends, or in information describing impacts and threats to the 
species. We evaluate any information on specific demographic factors 
pertinent to evaluating extinction risk for the species (e.g., 
population abundance and trends, productivity, spatial structure, age 
structure, sex ratio, diversity, current and historical range, habitat 
integrity or fragmentation), and the potential contribution of 
identified demographic risks to extinction risk for the species. We 
then evaluate the potential links between these demographic risks and 
the causative impacts and threats identified in section 4(a)(1).
    Information presented on impacts or threats should be specific to 
the species and should reasonably suggest that one or more of these 
factors may be operative threats that act or have acted on the species 
to the point that it may warrant protection under the ESA. Broad 
statements about generalized threats to the species, or identification 
of factors that could negatively impact a species, do not constitute 
substantial information indicating that listing may be warranted. We 
look for information indicating that not only is the particular species 
exposed to a factor, but that the species may be responding in a 
negative fashion; then we assess the potential significance of that 
negative response.
    Many petitions identify risk classifications made by non-
governmental organizations, such as the International Union on the 
Conservation of Nature (IUCN), the American Fisheries Society, or 
NatureServe, as evidence of extinction risk for a species. Risk 
classifications by other organizations or made under other Federal or 
state statutes may be informative, but such classification alone may 
not provide the rationale for a positive 90-day finding under the ESA. 
For example, as explained by NatureServe, their assessments of a 
species' conservation status do ``not constitute a recommendation by 
NatureServe for listing under the U.S. Endangered Species Act'' because 
NatureServe assessments ``have different criteria, evidence 
requirements, purposes and taxonomic

[[Page 24703]]

coverage than government lists of endangered and threatened species, 
and therefore these two types of lists should not be expected to 
coincide'' (http://www.natureserve.org/prodServices/statusAssessment.jsp). Thus, when a petition cites such 
classifications, we will evaluate the source of information that the 
classification is based upon in light of the standards on extinction 
risk and impacts or threats discussed above.

Distribution and Life History of the Great Hammerhead Shark

    The great hammerhead shark is a circumtropical species that lives 
in coastal-pelagic and semi-oceanic waters from latitudes of 40[deg] N 
to 35[deg] S (Compagno, 1984; Denham et al., 2007). It occurs over 
continental shelves as well as adjacent deep waters, and may also be 
found in coral reefs and lagoons (Compagno, 1984; Denham et al., 2007; 
Bester, n.d.). Great hammerhead sharks are highly mobile and seasonally 
migratory (Compagno, 1984; Denham et al., 2007; Hammerschlag et al., 
2011; Bester, n.d.). In the western Atlantic Ocean, the great 
hammerhead range extends from Massachusetts (although the species is 
rare north of North Carolina), in the United States, to Uruguay, 
including the Gulf of Mexico and Caribbean Sea. In the eastern 
Atlantic, it can be found from Morocco to Senegal, including in the 
Mediterranean Sea. The great hammerhead shark can also be found 
throughout the Indian Ocean and the Red Sea and in the Indo-Pacific 
region from Ryukyu Island south to New Caledonia and east to French 
Polynesia (Bester, n.d.). Distribution in the eastern Pacific Ocean 
extends from southern Baja California, including the Gulf of 
California, to Peru (Compagno, 1984).
    The general life history pattern of the great hammerhead shark is 
that of a long lived (oldest observed maximum age = 44 years; Piercy et 
al., 2010), large, and relatively slow growing species. The great 
hammerhead shark has a laterally expanded head that resembles a hammer, 
hence the common name ``hammerhead,'' and belongs to the Sphyrnidae 
family. The great hammerhead shark is the largest of the hammerheads, 
characterized by a nearly straight anterior margin of the head and 
median indentation in the center in adults, strongly serrated teeth, 
strongly falcate first dorsal and pelvic fins, and a high second dorsal 
fin with a concave rear margin (Compagno, 1984; Bester, n.d.). The body 
of the great hammerhead is fusiform, with the dorsal side colored dark 
brown to light grey or olive that shades to white on the ventral side 
(Compagno, 1984; Bester, n.d.). Fins of adult great hammerheads are 
uniform in color, while the tip of the second dorsal fin of juveniles 
may appear dusky (Bester, n.d.).
    The oldest aged great hammerhead sharks had lengths of 398 cm total 
length (TL) (female--44 years) and 379 cm TL (male--42 years) (Piercy 
et al., 2010), but they can reach lengths of over 610 cm TL (Compagno, 
1984). However, individuals greater than 400 cm TL are rare (Compagno, 
1984; Stevens and Lyle 1989), which Piercy et al. (2010) suggest may be 
attributed to growth overfishing. Estimates for size at maturity range 
from 234 to 269 cm TL for males and 210 to 300 cm TL for females 
(Compagno, 1984; Stevens and Lyle 1989). Male great hammerhead sharks 
have also been shown to grow faster than females (with a growth 
coefficient, k, of 0.16/year for males and 0.11/year for females) but 
reach a smaller asymptotic size (335 cm TL for males versus 389 cm TL 
for females) (Piercy et al., 2010).
    The great hammerhead shark is viviparous (i.e., give birth to live 
young), with a gestation period of 10-11 months, and likely breeds 
every other year (Stevens and Lyle, 1989). Litter sizes range from 6 to 
42 live pups (Compagno, 1984; Stevens and Lyle, 1989). Length at birth 
estimates for great hammerheads range from 50-70 cm TL (Compagno, 1984; 
Stevens and Lyle, 1989).
    The great hammerhead shark is a high trophic level predator 
(Cort[eacute]s, 1999) and opportunistic feeder, with a diet that 
includes a wide variety of teleosts, cephalopods, and crustaceans, with 
a preference for stingrays (Compagno, 1984; Denham et al., 2007).

Analysis of Petition and Information Readily Available in NMFS Files

    We evaluated the information provided in the petition and readily 
available in our files to determine if the petitions presented 
substantial scientific or commercial information indicating that the 
petitioned actions may be warranted. The petitions contain information 
on the species, including the taxonomy, species description, geographic 
distribution, and habitat, with some information on population status 
and trends in certain locations, and factors contributing to the 
species' decline. The petitions state that commercial fishing, both 
targeted and bycatch, is the primary threat to the great hammerhead 
shark. The petitioners also assert that current habitat destruction, 
deposition of pollutants, lack of adequate regulatory mechanisms 
nationally and worldwide, global climate warming, as well the species' 
biological constraints, increase the susceptibility of the great 
hammerhead shark to extinction.
    According to the WEG petition, all five causal factors in section 
4(a)(1) of the ESA are adversely affecting the continued existence of 
the great hammerhead shark: (A) The present or threatened destruction, 
modification, or curtailment of its habitat or range; (B) 
overutilization for commercial, recreational, scientific, or 
educational purposes; (C) disease or predation; (D) inadequacy of 
existing regulatory mechanisms; and (E) other natural or manmade 
factors affecting its continued existence. The focus of the NRDC 
petition is mainly on the northwest Atlantic population and it 
identified the threats of: (B) overutilization for commercial, 
recreational, scientific, or educational purposes; (D) inadequacy of 
existing regulatory mechanisms; and (E) other natural or manmade 
factors affecting its continued existence. In the following sections, 
we use the information presented in the petition and in our files to 
determine whether the petitioned action may be warranted. If requested 
to list a global population and, alternatively, a DPS, we first 
determine if the petition presents substantial information that the 
petitioned action is warranted for the global population. If it does, 
then we make a positive finding on the petition and will revisit the 
question of DPSs during a status review, if necessary. If the petition 
does not present substantial information that the global population may 
warrant listing, and it has requested that we list any populations of 
the species as threatened or endangered, then we consider whether the 
petition provides substantial information that the requested 
population(s) may qualify as DPSs under the discreteness and 
significance criteria of our joint DPS Policy, and if listing any of 
those DPSs may be warranted. We summarize our analysis and conclusions 
regarding the information presented by the petitioners and in our files 
on the specific ESA section 4(a)(1) factors that we find may be 
affecting the species' risk of global extinction below.

Overutilization for Commercial, Recreational, Scientific, or 
Educational Purposes

    Information from the petitions and in our files suggests that the 
primary threat to the great hammerhead shark is from fisheries. Great 
hammerhead sharks are both targeted and taken as bycatch in many global 
fisheries (e.g., bottom and pelagic longlines, coastal gillnet 
fisheries, artisanal fisheries). Because of their large fins with high 
fin needle

[[Page 24704]]

content (a gelatinous product used to make shark fin soup), hammerheads 
fetch a high commercial value in the Asian shark fin trade (Abercrombie 
et al., 2005). However, the WEG petition overstates the contribution of 
great hammerheads in the Hong Kong fin trade market by presenting 
information on the trade of scalloped, smooth, and great hammerhead 
fins together. According to a genetic study that examined the 
concordance between assigned Hong Kong market categories and the 
corresponding fins, the great hammerhead market category ``Gu pian'' 
had an 88 percent concordance rate, indicating that traders are able to 
accurately identify and separate great hammerhead fins from the other 
hammerhead species (Abercrombie et al., 2005; Clarke et al., 2006a). As 
such, here we provide the information on a finer scale level (down to 
the species level) to evaluate the extent that the fin trade may 
contribute to the overutilization of the great hammerhead shark. 
According to Clarke et al. (2006a), S. mokarran is estimated to 
comprise approximately 1.5 percent of the total fins traded annually in 
the Hong Kong fin market. As mentioned above, great hammerhead fins are 
primarily traded under the ``Gu pian'' market category, where the 
market value for the average, wholesale, unprocessed fin is around 
$135/kg, the most for any of the hammerhead fins (Abercrombie et al., 
2005). Extrapolating the fin data to numbers of sharks, Clarke et al. 
(2006b) estimates that around 375,000 (95 percent confidence interval = 
130,000-1.1 million) individuals of this species (equivalent to a 
biomass of around 21,000 metric tons, (mt)) are traded annually in the 
Hong Kong fin market. Given their high price in the Hong Kong market, 
there is concern that many great hammerheads caught as incidental catch 
may be kept for the fin trade as opposed to released alive.
    In the United States, great hammerhead sharks are mainly caught as 
bycatch in commercial longline and net fisheries and by recreational 
fishers using rod and reel. A recent stock assessment by Jiao et al. 
(2011) used a Bayesian hierarchical approach to assess the data-poor 
hammerhead species and found that the northwestern Atlantic and Gulf of 
Mexico great hammerhead population likely became overfished in the mid-
1980s and experienced overfishing periodically from 1983 to 1997. 
However, after 2001, the models showed that the risk of overfishing was 
very low and that this population is probably still overfished but no 
longer experiencing overfishing (Jiao et al., 2011), likely a result of 
the implementation of stronger fishery management regulations since the 
early 1990s. Under the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and 
Management Act (MSA), the term ``overfishing'' is defined as occurring 
when a stock experiences ``a level of fishing mortality that 
jeopardizes the capacity of a stock or stock complex to produce MSY 
[maximum sustainable yield] on a continuing basis'' (50 CFR 600.310). 
An ``overfished'' stock is defined as a stock whose biomass has 
declined below a level that jeopardizes the capacity of the stock to 
produce MSY on a continuing basis (50 CFR 600.310). However, it is 
important to note that these MSA classifications are based on different 
criteria (i.e., achieving MSY) than threatened or endangered statuses 
under the ESA. As such, ``overfished'' and ``overfishing'' 
classifications do not necessarily indicate that a species may warrant 
listing because they do not evaluate a species' extinction risk. 
However, they are relevant considerations for us to consider when we 
evaluate potential threats to the species from overutilization for 
commercial or recreational purposes.
    In Central America and the Caribbean, there are very little data on 
great hammerhead catches. The WEG petition references Denham et al. 
(2007) which states that hammerheads were heavily fished by longlines 
off the coast of Belize in the 1980s and early 1990s, leading to an 
observed decline in the abundance and size of hammerheads and prompting 
a halt in the Belize-based shark fishery. Fishing pressure on 
hammerheads still continues as a result of Guatemalan fishermen 
entering Belizean waters (Denham et al., 2007). However, catch records 
from the Cuban directed shark fishery show a small increase in the mean 
size of great hammerheads since 1992, suggesting partial recovery of 
the species in this region (Denham et al. 2007).
    The WEG petition also references a study (Feretti et al., 2008) 
that indicated that the population of smooth, scalloped, and great 
hammerheads in the Mediterranean Sea has experienced a greater than 99 
percent decline in abundance and biomass; however, the authors of this 
study note that only Sphyrna zygaena (smooth hammerhead) was assessed 
because the other hammerhead species occurred only sporadically in 
historical records. As such, this is not an appropriate index of the 
abundance of the other hammerhead species in the Mediterranean Sea and 
does not indicate overutilization of the great hammerhead shark in this 
region.
    In the Eastern Atlantic, off West Africa, the WEG petition states 
that the ``great hammerhead population is believed to have fallen 80 
percent as a result of unmanaged and unmonitored fisheries,'' but we 
could not verify the original source of this statistic. Data from the 
European pelagic freezer-trawler fishery that operates off Mauritania 
shows hammerhead species, including S. mokarran, constitute a 
significant component of the fishery's bycatch. Between 2001 and 2005, 
42 percent of the retained pelagic megafauna bycatch from over 1,400 
freezer-trawl sets consisted of hammerhead species, with around 75 
percent of the hammerhead catch juveniles of 0.50-1.40 m in length 
(Zeeberg et al., 2006). According to Denham et al. (2007), the sub-
regional plan of action for sharks of West Africa identified S. 
mokarran as particularly threatened in the region, with a noticeable 
decline in the population and collapse of landings. Citing unpublished 
data and anecdotal evidence, Denham et al. (2007) suggests that S. 
mokarran is ``almost extirpated'' from waters off Mauritania to Angola 
after previously being abundant in these areas in the early 1980s. The 
growth of fisheries targeting sharks in this region for the lucrative 
fin trade has likely contributed to the great hammerhead decline. By 
the 1980s, many fishers were specializing in catching sharks (Denham et 
al., 2007), with some artisanal fisheries in West Africa specifically 
specializing in catching sphyrnid species (CITES, 2010).
    In the Indian Ocean, pelagic sharks, including the great 
hammerhead, are targeted in various fisheries, including semi-
industrial, artisanal, and recreational fisheries. Countries that fish 
for sharks include: Egypt, India, Iran, Oman, Saudi Arabia, Sudan, 
United Arab Emirates, and Yemen, where the probable or actual status of 
shark populations is unknown, and Maldives, Kenya, Mauritius, 
Seychelles, South Africa, and United Republic of Tanzania, where the 
actual status of shark population is presumed to be fully to 
overexploited (de Young, 2006). Analysis of fishery-independent data 
from the KwaZulu-Natal beach protection program off South Africa 
revealed declines in the catch rates of S. mokarran since the late 
1970s. Specifically, from 1978-2003, annual catch per unit effort 
(CPUE; in number of sharks per km net year) of S. mokarran declined by 
79 percent, from 0.44 to 0.09 (Dudley and Simpfendorfer, 2006). The 
results were statistically significant, with the slope of the linear

[[Page 24705]]

regression = -0.014, and the majority of the catch (greater than 64 
percent) being immature great hammerhead sharks (Dudley and 
Simpfendorfer, 2006).
    In Australian waters, sharks are caught by commercial, recreational 
and traditional fishers as targeted catch, retained catch, and bycatch. 
Almost all sharks landed in Australia are used for domestic 
consumption. According to Bensley et al. (2010), the annual commercial 
Australian shark catch from 1996 to 2006 ranged from about 8,600 mt to 
11,500 mt; however, the reporting of catch weights varied due to the 
state of processing (e.g., whole weight, processed weight, landed 
weight, etc.). Data from protective shark meshing programs off beaches 
in New South Wales (NSW) and Queensland suggest declines in hammerhead 
populations off the east coast of Australia. Over a 35-year period, the 
number of hammerheads caught per year in NSW beach nets decreased by 
more than 90 percent, from over 300 individuals in 1973 to less than 30 
in 2008, although the majority of the hammerhead catch was likely S. 
zygaena (Williamson, 2011). Similarly, data from the Queensland shark 
control program indicate declines of around 79 percent in hammerhead 
shark abundance between 1986 and 2010 (although it was estimated that 
S. lewini made up the majority of this catch) (Queensland Department of 
Employment, Economic Development and Innovation (QLD DEEDI), 2011). S. 
mokarran abundance in the nets fluctuated over the years, but remained 
below 20 individuals per year, until 2008/2009 when a peak of 33 
individuals was caught in the net (QLD DEEDI, 2011). Abundance has 
since declined by around 48 percent to 17 individuals in 2011/2012 (QLD 
DEEDI, 2011). In Australia's northwest marine region, Heupel and 
McAuley (2007) analyzed CPUE data from the northern shark fisheries for 
the period of 1996-2005 and reported hammerhead abundance declines of 
58-76 percent.
    Given the value and contribution of great hammerhead fins in the 
international fin trade and the evidence of historical and current 
fishing pressure and subsequent population declines, we conclude that 
the information in the petitions and in our files suggests that global 
fisheries are impacting great hammerhead shark populations to a degree 
that raises concerns of a risk of extinction.

 Inadequacy of Existing Regulatory Mechanisms

    The petitions assert that the existing international and domestic 
management measures of several nations have failed to adequately 
protect the great hammerhead or stop ongoing population declines and 
present information on some of the current national and international 
shark regulations. Although the WEG petition mentions the International 
Convention for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT) 
Recommendation 10-08, prohibiting the retention, transshipment, 
landing, storing, or offering for sale any part or carcass of 
hammerhead sharks of the family Sphyrnidae (except for bonnethead 
shark), the petition states that ``these are merely recommendations and 
do not do enough to bind the relevant actors.'' On the contrary, the 
``relevant actors,'' of which we assume the petitioner is referring to 
ICCAT Contracting Parties, are bound to implement management measures 
consistent with achieving ICCAT recommendations under Article VIII of 
the ICCAT Convention. On August 29, 2011, we finalized the 
implementation of Recommendation 10-08 through passage of a final rule 
that prohibits the retention, possession, transshipment, landing, 
storing, selling or purchasing of oceanic whitetip sharks or scalloped, 
smooth, or great hammerheads by U.S. commercial highly migratory 
species (HMS) pelagic longline fishery and recreational fisheries for 
tunas, swordfish, and billfish in the Atlantic Ocean, including the 
Caribbean Sea and Gulf of Mexico (76 FR 53652; August 29, 2011). 
However, the exemption available to developing coastal States in this 
ICCAT recommendation, which allows them to retain hammerhead sharks for 
local consumption as long as no hammerhead parts enter international 
trade, is troubling. As this exception provides a lesser degree of 
protection for hammerhead sharks in some developing coastal States, it 
may be a cause for concern for great hammerhead populations in the 
Atlantic Ocean.
    In addition, the petitions note that there is limited international 
management of the great hammerhead shark, which is generally allowed to 
be harvested outside of U.S. waters and ICCAT fisheries. The other 
regional fishery management organizations (RFMOs) do not have any 
species-specific regulations for great hammerhead sharks, but have 
addressed the controversial practice of shark finning (which involves 
harvesting sharks, severing their fins and returning their remaining 
carcasses to the sea) by adopting shark finning bans to reduce the 
number of sharks killed solely for their fins. However, as the WEG 
petition points out, these finning bans are enforced by monitoring the 
fin-to-carcass weight ratio, with this ratio set at 5 percent (i.e., 
onboard fins cannot weigh more than 5 percent of the weight of sharks 
onboard, up to the first point of landing). In a study that looked at 
species-specific shark-fin-to-body-mass ratios, the great hammerhead 
shark had an average wet-fin-to-round-mass ratio of 1.96 percent (Biery 
and Pauly, 2012), much lower than the designated 5 percent. These 
results suggest that fishers of great hammerhead sharks would be able 
to land more fins than bodies and still pass inspection, essentially 
allowing them to continue the wasteful practice of shark finning at sea 
in these RFMO convention areas.
    Domestic laws and regulations for other nations may also be lacking 
in certain areas of the great hammerhead range. For example, in Central 
America and the Caribbean, Kyne et al. (2012) notes that due in large 
part to the number of autonomous countries found in this region, the 
management of shark species remains largely disjointed, with some 
countries lacking basic fisheries regulations, and weak enforcement of 
those they do have. Off West Africa, weak fisheries management has led 
to many of their fish stocks being declared fully exploited to 
overexploited (FAO, 2012). Environmental Justice Foundation (EJF) 
(2012) notes that even countries with stricter fishing regulations in 
this region lack the resources to provide effective or, for that 
matter, any enforcement, with some countries lacking basic monitoring 
systems. In addition, reports of illegal, unregulated, and unreported 
fishing are prevalent in the waters off West Africa and account for 
around 37 percent of the region's catch, the highest regional estimate 
of illegal fishing worldwide (Agnew et al., 2009; EJF, 2012). Illegal 
fishing is also common in the western central Pacific and eastern 
Indian Ocean (Agnew et al., 2009), with many reports of vessels being 
caught with illegal shark carcasses and fins onboard (Paul, 2009). As 
the NRDC petition notes, ``as recently as 2011, illegal fishing and 
finning of hammerhead sharks was documented in the Galapagos Marine 
Reserve,'' suggesting that illegal shark fishing may still be an 
impediment to conservation despite increasing international efforts to 
protect sharks. Without stricter fishery regulations or enforcement, 
there is concern that captures of great hammerhead sharks, both legal 
and illegal, may be kept, especially considering the high price that 
great hammerhead fins fetch in the international fin trade market. The 
information in the petitions and in our

[[Page 24706]]

files suggests that while there is increasing support for national and 
international shark conservation and regulation, the existing 
regulatory mechanisms in some portions of the S. mokarran range may be 
inadequate to address threats to the global great hammerhead 
population.

Other Natural or Manmade Factors

    The WEG petition contends that ``biological vulnerability'' in the 
form of long gestation periods, late maturity, and large size makes 
great hammerheads especially susceptible to overutilization. The 
species has low productivity (intrinsic rate of population increase per 
year = 0.070; Cort[eacute]s et al., 2012), which makes it generally 
vulnerable to depletion and slow to recover from overexploitation. In 
addition, both petitions mention the great hammerhead sharks' high 
capture mortality rate on bottom longline (BLL) gear. This high at-
vessel mortality makes the shark vulnerable to fishing pressure, with 
any capture of this species, regardless of whether the fishing is 
targeted or incidental, contributing to its fishing mortality. In the 
northwest Atlantic, at-vessel fishing mortality on BLL gear (averaged 
for all age groups) was estimated to be 93.8 percent for great 
hammerhead sharks (Morgan and Burgess, 2007). However, in an ecological 
risk assessment of 20 shark stocks, Cortes et al. (2012) found that the 
great hammerhead ranked 14th in terms of its susceptibility to pelagic 
longline fisheries in the Atlantic Ocean. This information suggests 
that the species' biological vulnerability (low productivity and high 
at-vessel mortality) may be a threat in certain fisheries, possibly 
contributing to an increased risk of extinction, but may not be a cause 
for concern in other fisheries.

Conclusion

    We conclude that the information in the petition and in our files 
suggests that fisheries, inadequate existing regulatory mechanisms, and 
other natural factors may be impacting great hammerhead shark 
populations to a degree that raises concerns of a risk of extinction, 
with evidence of population depletions throughout the entire range of 
the great hammerhead shark. We find that the WEG petition's discussion 
of the present and threatened destruction, modification, and 
curtailment of the great hammerhead's habitat and range due to growing 
human populations and both petitions' discussions of climate change 
threats to habitats do not constitute substantial information 
indicating that listing may be warranted. The petitioners fail to show 
if the great hammerhead shark is responding in a negative fashion to 
those specific threats. For example, neither petition provides 
evidence, nor is there information in our files, to indicate that 
hypoxic occurrences and dead zones, a result of growing human 
populations, urban pollution, and climate warming, negatively impact 
shark populations. In fact, shark abundance can be very high in dead 
zones (Driggers and Hoffmayer, personal communication, 2013). In 
addition, both petitions assert that the loss of coral reef habitat due 
to climate change puts great hammerheads at risk of extinction; 
however, great hammerhead sharks are highly migratory species and are 
not limited to reef habitats. Additionally, another interpretation of 
the information could be that as ocean temperatures warm, more adequate 
habitat for great hammerheads would become available as they are a 
tropical species. The WEG petition also does not provide substantial 
information indicating that listing may be warranted due to the 
presence of mercury, PCBs, and arsenic in the great hammerhead shark's 
environment. The WEG petition references studies that examined the 
concentrations of these metals and organic compounds in different shark 
species, but it does not provide information, nor is there information 
in the references or in our files, on the effects of these substances 
and concentrations on great hammerhead sharks. In fact, the petition 
quotes a reference, stating that ``scientists found that `[a]ll life-
history stages [of the great white shark] may be vulnerable to high 
body burdens of anthropogenic toxins; how these may impact the 
population is not known.' '' In addition, one of the petition's 
references, Storelli et al. (2003), states ``[i]t is hypothesed [sic] 
that the large size of elasmobranch liver provides a greater ability to 
eliminate organic toxicants than in other fishes.'' The reference also 
mentions that in marine mammals selenium has a detoxifying effect 
against mercury intoxication when the molar ratio between the two 
metals is close to one, and observed similar ratios in shark liver 
``indicating that this particular mechanism may also be valid for 
sharks'' (Storelli et al., 2003). We conclude that given the 
information in the petition, references, and in our files, the petition 
fails to show that the great hammerhead may be responding in a negative 
fashion to these proposed threats.

Summary of ESA Section 4(a)(1) Factors

    We conclude that the petitions present substantial scientific or 
commercial information indicating that the petitioned action may be 
warranted due to a combination of the following three ESA section 
4(a)(1) factors that may be causing or contributing to an increased 
risk of extinction for the great hammerhead shark: Overutilization for 
commercial, recreational, scientific, or educational purposes, 
inadequate existing regulatory mechanisms, and other natural factors. 
However, we conclude that the WEG petition does not present substantial 
scientific or commercial information indicating that the petitioned 
action may be warranted based on the remaining two ESA section 4(a)(1) 
factors: The present or threatened destruction, modification, or 
curtailment of its habitat or range; or disease or predation.

Petition Finding

    After reviewing the information contained in the petitions, as well 
as information readily available in our files, and based on the above 
analysis, we conclude that the petitions present substantial scientific 
information indicating that the petitioned action of listing the great 
hammerhead shark range-wide as threatened or endangered may be 
warranted. Therefore, in accordance with section 4(b)(3)(B) of the ESA 
and NMFS' implementing regulations (50 CFR 424.14(b)(2)), we will 
commence a status review of the species. During our status review, we 
will first determine whether the species is in danger of extinction 
(endangered) or likely to become so (threatened) throughout all or a 
significant portion of its range. If it is not, then we will consider 
whether any populations meet the DPS policy criteria, and if so, 
whether any of these are threatened or endangered throughout all or a 
significant portion of their ranges. We now initiate this review, and 
thus, the great hammerhead shark is considered to be a candidate 
species (69 FR 19975; April 15, 2004). Within 12 months of the receipt 
of the petition (December 21, 2013), we will make a finding as to 
whether listing the species (or any identified DPSs) as endangered or 
threatened is warranted as required by section 4(b)(3)(B) of the ESA. 
If listing the species (or any identified DPSs) is found to be 
warranted, we will publish a proposed rule and solicit public comments 
before developing and publishing a final rule.

Information Solicited

    To ensure that the status review is based on the best available 
scientific and commercial data, we are soliciting information on 
whether the great hammerhead shark is endangered or

[[Page 24707]]

threatened. Specifically, we are soliciting information in the 
following areas: (1) Historical and current distribution and abundance 
of this species throughout its range; (2) historical and current 
population trends; (3) life history in marine environments, including 
identified nursery grounds; (4) historical and current data on great 
hammerhead shark bycatch and retention in industrial, commercial, 
artisanal, and recreational fisheries worldwide; (5) historical and 
current data on great hammerhead shark discards in global fisheries; 
(6) data on the trade of great hammerhead shark products, including 
fins, jaws, meat, and teeth; (7) any current or planned activities that 
may adversely impact the species; (8) ongoing or planned efforts to 
protect and restore the species and their habitats; (9) population 
structure information, such as genetics data; and (10) management, 
regulatory, and enforcement information. We request that all 
information be accompanied by: (1) Supporting documentation such as 
maps, bibliographic references, or reprints of pertinent publications; 
and (2) the submitter's name, address, and any association, 
institution, or business that the person represents.

References Cited

    A complete list of references is available upon request from NMFS 
Protected Resources Headquarters Office (see ADDRESSES).

Authority

    The authority for this action is the Endangered Species Act of 
1973, as amended (16 U.S.C. 1531 et seq.).

    Dated: April 23, 2013.
Alan D. Risenhoover,
Director, Office of Sustainable Fisheries, performing the functions and 
duties of the Deputy Assistant Administrator for Regulatory Programs, 
National Marine Fisheries Service.
[FR Doc. 2013-09943 Filed 4-25-13; 8:45 am]
BILLING CODE 3510-22-P