How Angel Sharks Work

Angel Shark Fishing and Recovery
Does this look appetizing to you?
Does this look appetizing to you?
Richard Hermann/Visuals Unlimited/Getty Images

Larger sharks, including the great white shark, may prey on the angel shark, but the angel shark's real threat is man. Or more specifically, one man, by the name of Michael Wagner. Until the 1970s, angel sharks were thought of as a "junk fish," something that got caught in a fishermen's net by accident. Fishermen threw them back, until Wagner, a seafood processor in California, began to spread the word about the tastiness of the Pacific angel shark.

Wagner's campaign was almost single-handedly responsible for bringing the angel shark to millions of plates. In 1977, only about 366 pounds (166 kilograms) of Pacific angel shark were caught, but by 1984, that had become 700,000 pounds (317,545 kilograms) [source: Monterey Bay Aquarium]. When fishing for this shark reached its peak in 1985 and 1986, about 1.2 million pounds (544,311 kilograms) of sharks were being caught each year [source: Martin].

While this was good news for inventive cooks and shark connoisseurs, it was extremely bad news for angel shark populations, which were nearly decimated when the high fishing rate was combined with their low reproductive rate and slow growth.

Pacific angel sharks typically give birth to litters of about 8 to 13, while other species may have litters of just six or up to 25 [sources: Martin, Awruch et al., Hansen]. The gestation period varies among species but is generally between eight and 10 months. Angel sharks are ovoviviparous, which means that the females carries the eggs, but the eggs hatch inside and the pups are born live. Angel shark pups measure only about 9 inches (23 centimeters) at birth. Adults try to protect the small pups by giving birth in deeper waters [source: Martin]. Still, only about 20 percent of Pacific angel sharks survive to maturity [source: Bester].

Not every angel shark is subject to this kind of fishing, but many angel shark populations have been declining [source: Morey et al.]. In some areas, the fish appears to have vanished completely, but specific numbers are hard to come by. These sharks are listed as "vulnerable" by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), and some of the fisheries are subject to increased regulation. When not caught, it's estimated that angel sharks live about 25 years [source: Kay].

You can fish for more information on angel sharks and other shark species on the next page.

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