Grey Nurse Shark Draft Recovery Plan
The grey nurse shark, Carcharias taurus (Rafinesque, 1810), has been listed by the NSW Government, on the advice of the Fisheries Scientific Committee, as an endangered species under the Fisheries Management Act 1994.
The grey nurse shark is a large species of shark native to subtropical to cool temperate waters in the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic, Indian and Pacific oceans. Once widely distributed, they are now restricted to waters off parts of the USA, Uruguay, Argentina, South Africa and Australia.
In all areas around the world where grey nurse sharks occur their numbers have declined.
In Australia, grey nurse sharks are now restricted to two separate populations, one on the east coast of NSW and southern Queensland, and the other in coastal waters off Western Australia. The east coast population has been listed by the Commonwealth as ‘critically endangered’ under the Environment Protection and Biodiversity Conservation Act, while the west coast population is listed as ‘vulnerable’.
Their abundance in NSW waters has declined significantly in recent decades. This decline seems to have been mainly the result of commercial fishing, recreational spear and game fishing, and shark control activities such as beach meshing.
In response to this decline, grey nurse sharks were protected from fishing in NSW in 1984.
As yet there is no evidence that this has succeeded in stopping or reversing the decline in their numbers. Grey nurse sharks have a low rate of reproduction, which makes them very vulnerable to threatening processes and very slow to recover when their populations are reduced. They are still threatened by incidental capture by fishers and illegal fishing activities such as shark finning.
Through a series of surveys along the entire NSW coast, 13 key aggregation sites for grey nurse sharks have been identified in state waters. Three of these key 'aggregation sites' are already given high levels of protection within existin g marine protected areas. The remainder are still exposed to a range of threats, mainly associated with fishing.
A draft recovery plan has been developed to assist the recovery of this species through implementation of a range of strategies. The draft plan describes our current state of knowledge of grey nurse sharks and the gaps that still remain in our understanding of their ecology, abundance, natural life history and population dynamics. It also discusses the major threats and issues affecting their conservation and management. The draft plan then identifies the actions required to improve this knowledge and reduce major threats to ensure the ongoing viability of grey nurse sharks in the wild.