The DFW evaluated the petition, and now the Fish and Game Commission can reject it or declare the great white shark as a candidate species for future listing, said Adrianna Shea, deputy executive director and special adviser to the commission.
The sharks already are protected under federal and state law, and it’s illegal for anyone to take, possess or sell a great white shark except in rare circumstances when being used for scientific research purposes.
Some sport and commercial fishermen catch them while targeting other species, but cannot keep or sell them.
“If it moves forward, there will be a year-long status review of the species that goes through current literature, numbers and working within the scientific community to come up with a snapshot of where the species is and if trends have changed,” Shea said.
The North Eastern Pacific white shark, also known as great whites, are considered genetically unique from other populations of white sharks near Australia and South Africa, according to the California Department of Fish and Wildlife, formerly the Department of Fish and Game.
Shea said it’s too early to say what potential impacts could be, to fishing regulations or otherwise, but fishermen already are worried.
“The fishing community is concerned about potential impacts to commercial and sport-fishing regulations; gill netting and other things could be impacted if the white shark is listed (under CESA),” Shea said.
Since the 1970s, there have been changes to gill-net fishing regulations to help prevent accidentally catching sharks, including no-fish areas for a mile around the Channel Islands and within three miles of shore, starting in mid-Santa Barbara County at Point Arguello, which is west of Lompoc.
The petition recommends that great white sharks be protected under CESA; hard limits be put on the accidental capture of white sharks — especially gill-net fisheries from Point Conception to San Diego; changes be made to fisheries management to reduce interactions of sharks with commercial fisheries — including time/area closures and enforcement; implementation of a recovery plan for great white sharks; and better monitoring of population trends.
The petitioners argue that the shark population is in peril, although the DFW evaluation says the population size cannot be estimated.
The sharks’ territory extends from Mazatlan in Mexico to the Bering Sea, and from the West Coast to the Hawaiian islands.
Although there isn’t a lot of information about the life history of great white sharks, the petition infers that fishing pressures, reduced prey, and contamination and climate change in its habitat are all negatively affecting the species’ ability to survive and reproduce.
DFW notes that there may be indirect evidence for an increasing population, since there have been more interactions between fishing operations and juvenile white sharks, despite more restrictions and fewer gill-net fishing efforts.
Locally, there have been more shark sightings along Santa Barbara’s coastline, with warning signs posted at local beaches five times between July and September.
Harbor officials also reported more shark attacks than usual on marine mammals, especially seals.
An Orcutt man, 39-year-old Francisco Javier Solorio, was attacked and killed by a great white shark while surfing Oct. 23 at Surf Beach near Vandenberg Air Force Base, the second such attack there in two years.
UCSB student Lucas Ransom, 19, of Romoland in Riverside County, was fatally attacked by a great white shark on Oct. 22, 2010, while boogie boarding at the same beach. He died of his injuries — a massive wound to his left leg — at the scene, despite being rushed to shore by friends and other witnesses.
That was Santa Barbara County’s first mainland fatal shark attack.
Authorities determined that 14- to 16-foot great white sharks were responsible for both attacks.
Great whites are suspected to have been involved in two other local incidents: a shark bit a man’s surfboard at Surf Beach in 2008, and a diver was fatally attacked off the coast of San Miguel Island in 1994.
The commission will consider the petition at its Feb. 6 meeting, and then could conduct a year-long review and finally decide whether to list white sharks as threatened or endangered under CESA.
The meeting will be held in the Natural Resources Building’s first-floor auditorium at 1416 Ninth St. in Sacramento.
Scroll down for the Department of Fish and Wildlife’s evaluation of the petition.