Date Awarded


Document Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.)


Virginia Institute of Marine Science


John A. Musick


Sharks of the Atlantic coast of the United States have suffered increased fishing pressure in last three decades. Commercial and recreational catches jumped in the mid to late 1980's, leading to regulation by the National Marine Fisheries Service in the early 1990's. The Virginia Institute of Marine Sciences' shark long-line survey, begun in 1974, and continuing to the present day, is thus well positioned to look at the effects of this fishing mortality on sharks. Using GAM modelling, six of ten shark species analyzed, including the most common species, Carcharhinus plumbeus, suffered declines of from 98-99% of early abundances in the survey. Only two species showed no significant trends, and only one (C. obscurus) showed signs of recovery. Analysis of size changes showed that both C. plumbeus and C. obscurus have suffered declines in both mean and variance of their size distribution since 1974. Analyses of mass changes showed that five of thirteen species have shown biologically significant declines in mass per shark since 1974. Six of the remaining eight showed no trend in mass per shark. Habitat analyses showed that few species showed effects of climate scale variables such as the North Atlantic Oscillation index, Chesapeake Bay discharge, or the Palmer Drought Index. Many species showed significant changes in patterns in abundance with local environmental variables, such as temperature, salinity, and water depth. These patterns, when combined, revealed several groupings of species, including deep-water species, Bay-abundant species, and near-shore species. Another group consisted of species that occur in this area only as they move north and south en route to more northerly areas for summer months. One group was made up of two species (S. acanthias and M. canis) that occurred almost exclusively in cold water (April and May). Analysis of New Jersey long-line data from 1961-62 with a resample of many of the same sites revealed that abundances off New Jersey show a trend in both mass and abundance similar to that found in the VIMS survey data. Overall, this study demonstrated many trends in shark distribution and ecology not previously shown in any way other than anecdotally.



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