Reproductive biology of two small-bodied sharks, Carcharhinus coatesi and Rhizoprionodon acutus, in the Northern Territory, Australia

A. K. Kirke, D. A. Crook, S. C. Banks, O. J. Luiz, T. M. Saunders, A. J. King, G. J. Johnson

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Abstract

Sharks and rays are widely perceived to have slow reproductive rates and, thus, are often considered highly susceptible to population declines from commercial fishing. However, the reproductive biology of sharks is highly diverse, and some species can sustainably support significant commercial harvest. Small sharks are commonly caught and discarded as bycatch in several Australian and international fisheries. This represents either a wasted resource that could potentially be sustainably utilised, or a potential conservation issue if overharvesting occurs. This study examines the reproductive biology of two small-bodied sharks in the Northern Territory, Australia. Carcharhinus coatesi (n = 726) and Rhizoprionodon acutus (n = 179) were collected between May 2018 and November 2019 from commercial trawl fisheries. Maximum lengths in both species were higher in females than males (C. coatesi: F = 862 mm, M = 822 mm; R. acutus: F = 862 mm, M = 835 mm). Size at 50% maturation size C. coatesi: F = 655 mm, M = 664 mm; R. acutus: F = 682 mm. Size-at-maturity that the logistic model predicted for male R. acutus (715 mm) appears to represent size at full maturation and this study could not determine 50% maturation size. Litter sizes were small in both species, with C. coatesi producing 1–2 pups (mean 1.9) and R. acutus producing 1–4 pups (mean 2.8). Both species gave birth to large pups when compared to other shark species (C. coatesi: 370 - 450 mm; R. acutus: 315 – 400 mm), with C. coatesi size-at-birth being 47.6% of maximum female total length, while R. acutus size-at-birth was 41.5% of maximum female total length). Both species reproduced throughout the year, complicating estimation of the gestation period. The reproductive biology of C. coatesi and R. acutus showed considerable spatial and temporal variability when compared to studies from other regions and a past study from the Northern Territory in 1991. Although C. coatesi and R. acutus are currently abundant in the Northern Territory, the low fecundity of both species compared to other small-bodied sharks may limit their potential to sustain high levels of commercial harvest. Any expansion of commercial fishing for these species should be based on detailed consideration of their reproductive biology—in particular their low fecundity—to avoid the declines experienced by other formerly abundant elasmobranchs globally.

Original languageEnglish
Article number106946
Pages (from-to)1-15
Number of pages15
JournalFisheries Research
Volume272
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2024

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