Size Changes within a Southeastern United States Coastal Shark Assemblage: 1975–2018

Published on
15. May 2021

Size Changes within a Southeastern United States Coastal Shark Assemblage: 1975–2018

Martin T. Benavides, F. Joel Fodrie, Stephen R. Fegley, Giada Bargione


Harvest may have myriad effects on target species, including a change in population size structure. To assess whether size shifts have occurred among managed coastal species of shark (superorder Selachimorpha), we examined the population size structure of 12 species caught during a nearly five-decade-long fishery-independent survey conducted in Onslow Bay, North Carolina, using standardized longline gear. We evaluated trends in mean fork length (FL), median FL, and index of maximum FL (L90%) for each species separately across time using linear regression models. We also examined trends in size-classes (200-mm bins) and catch per unit effort for each species over time. For 10 of the 12 species (excluding sample-size-constrained Tiger Shark Galeocerdo cuvier and Bull Shark Carcharhinus leucas), size structure metrics indicated decreasing sizes over time, although statistical confidence for these patterns varied across species and metrics. Strongest statistical support for declining sizes was observed for Blacknose Shark Carcharhinus acronotus (mean FL, median FL, L90%), Dusky Shark Carcharhinus obscurus (L90%), Smooth Dogfish Mustelus canis (L90%), and Atlantic Sharpnose Shark Rhizoprionodon terraenovae (L90%). Magnitude of decreases in L90% among these 10 species during the survey ranged from roughly 9% (Silky Shark Carcharhinus falciformis; 83-mm decrease) to 35% (Sandbar Shark Carcharhinus plumbeus; 541-mm decrease). Our findings indicate a potential for fishing pressure to exert directional selection on these coastal shark species, although further research is needed regarding the nature of size-dependent catchability and species-specific vital rates to adequately evaluate these dynamics. Furthermore, in addition to the removal of “great sharks,” decreasing sizes of small coastal sharks, such as Blacknose Shark, Smooth Dogfish, and Atlantic Sharpnose Shark (i.e., “mesopredators”), suggest that harvest may have pervasive effects on species throughout this assemblage.

Marine and Coastal Fisheries, Volume13, Issue3, June 2021, Pages 228-239, DOI: 10.1002/mcf2.10151


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