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Information Summary for Consultations on the Proposed Listing of Basking Shark (Atlantic Population) as “Special Concern” Under the Species at Risk Act (SARA)

As part of the consultation process, the Government of Canada would like to hear your comments on the potential impacts of listing Basking Shark (Cetorhinus maximus) as “special concern” under the Species at Risk Act (SARA). Fisheries and Oceans Canada (DFO) has prepared this summary to provide information on the state of Basking Sharks in Atlantic Canada.

What is the Species at Risk Act?
As part of its strategy for the protection of species at risk, the Government of Canada proclaimed the Species at Risk Act (SARA) in 2003. One of the purposes of the SARA is to provide for the legal protection of wildlife species and the conservation of biological diversity. The Committee on the Status of Endangered Wildlife in Canada (COSEWIC) has the mandate to conduct assessments on the status of wildlife species and categorize them according to their level of risk for extinction (extinct, extirpated, endangered, threatened, or special concern). The Government of Canada considers the scientific evidence, the comments received from Canadians during consultations, and the potential socio-economic impacts before making a decision whether or not to include the species on the List of Wildlife Species at Risk under SARA. Recovery planning is undertaken for all listed species, and prohibitions are put in place protecting species assessed as extinct, extirpated, endangered or threatened, from being harmed.

Basking Shark

About Basking Sharks
Basking Sharks got their name due to their tendency to feed at the surface of the water during the summer months. These Sharks are the second largest fish species in the world, reaching lengths of over 15 meters. Despite their large size they feed primarily on tiny zooplankton. In the North Atlantic Ocean, Basking Sharks have been recorded from the Caribbean to Greenland, and are found in all waters on the Atlantic Canadian continental shelf.

Distribution of Basking Sharks in the North Atlantic Ocean.  Dark grey represents areas where Basking Sharks are known to occur. Light grey indicates areas where Basking Sharks are anticipated to occur.

Distribution of Basking Sharks in the North Atlantic Ocean. Dark grey represents areas where Basking Sharks are known to occur. Light grey indicates areas where Basking Sharks are anticipated to occur.

Proposed SARA Status: “Special Concern”
The level of protection and recovery actions undertaken for a species listed under SARA depends on its assessed level of risk for extinction. Basking Shark has been assessed by COSEWIC as a species of “special concern”. This is the lowest level of risk category and indicates that this species is not presently endangered, but is considered to be sensitive to human activities and natural events due to biological factors and/or threats. The designation of “special concern” for Basking Shark reflects its late maturity and long gestation period, making the population slow to recover if human activities cause an increase in mortality rates.

Threats to the Species
Interaction with fishing gear is the primary threat to Basking Sharks. They are by-catch in trawl fisheries, primarily in the silver hake and redfish fisheries, although they can also be caught in other bottom, mid-water and shrimp trawls. They are also occasionally caught in long-line and gillnet fisheries. Available information shows a decline in by-catch of Basking Shark since the 1990’s, which likely reflects a decrease in foreign and Canadian trawl fishing effort. Due to the time the Basking Shark spends feeding in surface waters, collisions with vessels has been identified as a possible source of mortality, but at this time the extent of this potential threat is unknown.

Special Significance of the Species
Basking shark is not subject to a commercial fishery, although it is caught as by-catch in some fisheries. It is not known if Basking Shark has any historical significance to Aboriginal peoples or local communities, however it is not known to be used for food, social, or ceremonial purposes. No Aboriginal or community traditional knowledge about these fish has been collected at this time.

Protection and Recovery of Species under the SARA
If Basking Shark is added to the List of Wildlife Species at Risk as a species of “special concern”, it will not be subject to prohibitions under SARA; however DFO will be required to produce a Management Plan for the species in an effort to ensure that it does not become further at risk due to human activity. A SARA Management Plan will include conservation measures for the species and set goals and objectives for maintaining sustainable population levels. If the species is not listed under SARA, DFO could still develop a Management Plan for Basking Shark under the jurisdiction of the Fisheries Act

Possible Management Measures
If Basking Shark is listed under SARA, DFO will, in collaboration and consultation with stakeholders and partners, use the best available information to develop a Management Plan, which could include increased monitoring of Basking Shark by-catch in some groundfish fisheries to more accurately determine mortality rates. If rates are found to be unsustainable, spatial and/or temporal fishery closures may be considered in areas with observed high concentrations of Basking Shark. In addition, a stewardship program may be developed to educate fishers on best practices for releasing Basking Sharks caught as by-catch.

Potential Socio-Economic Impacts of Listing Under SARA
A summary of the results of the socio-economic analysis conducted by DFO on the listing of Basking Shark under SARA is available on request.

The Consultation Process – Your Comments
As part of the consultation process, the Government of Canada would like to hear your opinions on listing Basking Shark as “special concern” under SARA, and any comments on the potential positive and negative impacts this listing would have on you, your industry, and/or the ecosystem. Your answers to the following questions will be used to help inform the decision whether or not to list the species under SARA:

  1. How would your activities be affected if Basking Shark was listed as “special concern” under SARA?

  2. What would be the environmental, social, cultural, and economic impacts of listing this species under SARA?

  3. Do you support listing Basking Shark as “special concern” on the List of Wildlife Species at Risk under SARA?
    Why or why not?

  4. Do you represent an industry, community, Aboriginal community or organization, or other group? If so, which group or sector do you represent?

To submit answers to the above questions, share your comments, or to receive further information about this species, please contact:
Species at Risk Management Division
Maritimes Region
Fisheries and Oceans Canada
1 Challenger Drive
Dartmouth, Nova Scotia
B2Y 4A2