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Sharks Taking Over Alaska Waters?

by Murray Lundberg

Dateline: August 6, 2000

    When you think about pulling a fish out of the waters around Alaska, salmon and halibut are probably the species that come to mind, not sharks. But sharks are appearing on nets and lines with increasing frequency.

    Some fishermen report that the shark populations exploded about four years ago, although nobody knows why. The life cycles of sharks are not well understood, and it isn't even clear whether populations are really increasing, or whether they are just moving from other areas to Alaska.

    National Marine Fisheries Service biologist Lee Hulbert is heading a two-year study of Salmon Sharks in Alaska, He feels that a general increase in water temperatures may be bringing warm-water sharks far north of their former ranges.

There are 10 species of shark found off the coast of Alaska. The most common are:

  • the Salmon Shark (Lamna ditropis)
  • the Spiny Dogfish Shark (Squalus acantias)
  • and the Pacific Sleeper Shark (Somniosis pacificus)
The others which are occasionally found are:
  • the Sixgill Shark (Hexanchus griseus)
  • Sevengill Shark (Notorynchus maculatus)
  • Thresher Shark, (Alopias vulpinus) - normally a warm water shark
  • White Shark, (Carcharodon carcharias) - a warm water shark that has been reported in Southeast Alaska waters
  • Basking Shark, (Cetorhinurs maximus) - can reach 40-45 feet in length
  • Brown Cat Shark, (Apristurus brunneus) - a small shark, up to 27 inches in length
  • Soupfin Shark, (Galeorhinus zyopterus) - in California there is an establshed fishery for fins and fillets
  • Blue Shark, (Prionace glauca) - a warm water shark, up to 12 feet

    In 1998, Lee Hulbert was part of a fisheries research team that lowered a camera into Prince William Sound's Galena Bay and saw almost 1,000 Salmon Sharks - prior to 1995, he hadn't seen any. Here's a photo of a 233-pound Salmon Shark caught in Cook Inlet. Although Salmon Sharks aren't featured by many charter operators yet, a few such as Raspberry Island Lodge and Orion Charters are making good use of this increasingly-abundant resource. The Saltwater Safari Company reports that Salmon Sharks in the Seward area average 7 feet in length and 400 pounds, and "...are capable of high speed runs and aerobatic leaps that will impress even the most experienced big-game fisherman."

    The Spiny Dogfish shark used to be caught commercially for their liver oil, which contains large quantities of Vitamin A. Fishermen in the Yakutat area are lobbying for the opening of a Spiny Dogfish fishery there. At the current time, they do have a bycatch quota, and that was recently increased from 20% to 35% of their total catch, but the fishermen say that isn't nearly enough, since they can fill their boats with dogfish, but not with halibut.

    Pacific Sleeper Sharks are deep-water sharks, and are known at depths of up to 450 meters (1,470 feet).

    Interestingly from a Web design perspective, "shark" appears in the invisible meta tags of many other Alaska fishing sites (meta tags are used by search engines to index sites), even when it isn't in the visible text. So even many those operators not actively promoting shark fishing yet are at least thinking in that direction.

    I haven't seen any Alaska-specific recipes for shark yet, but dishes such as Grilled Shark and Caribbean Stewed Shark look like good starting points. I think I'll stick to salmon and halibut, though!

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