Center for Biological Diversity

For Immediate Release, April 28, 2022


Kristin Carden, Center for Biological Diversity, (510) 844-7100 x 327,
Lindsey Zehel, Defend Them All Foundation, (567) 203-7220,

Tope Sharks Take Step Toward Endangered Species Protection

Fishing Driving Shark to Extinction After 88% Population Decline

PORTLAND, Ore.— Following a petition, the National Marine Fisheries Service has announced that the tope shark — also known as the “soupfin shark” — may warrant protection under the U.S. Endangered Species Act.

Prime tope shark habitat can be found in the waters off California, Oregon and Washington. Off Southern California tope sharks face a high risk of bycatch and entanglement in Mexico’s gillnets. The tope shark has declined by 88% globally in the past 80 years.

The petition that prompted this week’s Fisheries Service action was submitted by Defend Them All and the Center for Biological Diversity. It also asks the Service to designate critical habitat essential to the survival and recovery of the tope shark, including its West Coast breeding sites.

“This is an important first step toward providing tope sharks with the protections they need to prevent their extinction, but federal officials have to move quickly,” said Kristin Carden, a Center scientist. “For too long, tope sharks have been targeted for their fins and caught as bycatch in other fisheries. We need to stop the incredibly disturbing plunge in their population, and the Endangered Species Act could safeguard these imperiled animals and their offshore and nearshore habitats.”

The International Union for Conservation of Nature categorizes the tope shark as critically endangered. The species is highly threatened with extinction because of commercial overfishing for liver oil, meat and fins, as well as bycatch and habitat degradation. The United States has not developed a stock assessment or fishery management plan for tope sharks, so their status here is largely unknown.

“Because of its reliance on near-shore breeding areas, the tope shark is known to be particularly vulnerable to threats driving many aquatic species to extinction,” said Lindsey Zehel, a Defend Them All attorney. “As top predators, loss of the tope shark would have cascading, detrimental effects on coastal benthic ecosystems already highly degraded by human activity. It’s time to take a more aggressive approach to protecting this species and its West Coast habitat before it’s too late.”

The tope shark is long and slender, reaching up to 6 and a half feet long and nearly 100 pounds. The sharks can live up to 60 years and have late maturity — on average at 12.5 years. Tope sharks are found in temperate, shallow waters along coastlines around the world, from North America to Australia to the Mediterranean.

The entire West Coast of the United States is prime tope shark territory, from La Jolla in San Diego County north to Washington state. The shark pools in five zones: La Jolla in San Diego County, the rest of San Diego, Orange and Los Angeles counties (including Santa Catalina Island), Ventura and Santa Barbara Counties (including the Northern Channel Islands), San Luis Obispo through Sonoma Counties (including San Francisco Bay and the Farallon Islands), and Oregon and Washington.

Following this week’s decision the government will open a public comment period on tope shark protection. The Endangered Species Act requires the National Marine Fisheries Service to decide whether to list the species by February 2023. A listing could trigger habitat protections and review of fishing practices that could aid recovery of tope sharks.

The Center for Biological Diversity is a national, nonprofit conservation organization with more than 1.7 million members and online activists dedicated to the protection of endangered species and wild places.

The Defend Them All Foundation is a nonprofit organization working to secure a better future for all animals and their habitats through community advocacy, education, and legal guidance.

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