Sale and trade of shark fins to continue in Florida, despite threat to ecosystem, tourism

Boston Globe Sharks are usually alive when the fins are cut off, and are thrown back in the water afterward, where they die slow deaths because they are unable to swim.

Environmentalists sighed in disappointment after a Florida Senate bill banning the sale and trade of shark fins was amended last week, weakening its original intent.

 

Originally proposed by Northeast Florida Senator Travis Hutson, R-Elkton, Senate Bill 884 would have thwarted the lucrative business of shark fin sales with strong language outlining the punishment and violations of the sale, trade or distribution of fins.

“Eleven other states that had ports where this activity was taking place have already banned the sale and trade of shark fins,” said Erin Handy, campaign organizer for Oceana’s Climate & Energy Campaign in Florida. “Florida would have been the twelfth.”

Handy said the original version of SB 884 would make it a first-degree misdemeanor in the state to trade or sell shark fins and tails, as well as suspending or revoking permits of commercial and recreational fishers found in violation.

But under the amended version, language regarding sale and trade has been eliminated. Instead, SB 884 clarifies serious punishment for fishers found in possession of fins.

Handy speculates the state has been slow to implement rules against the sale and trade of shark fins due to the fishing industry.

“There’s some opposition from the fishing industry saying the fins are the most valuable part and they should be able to sell them if they catch the shark and land it legally,” she said.

Shark finning is the practice of removing and retaining shark fins at sea while discarding the remainder of the shark’s body. Fins are used for shark fin soup, a popular Asian dish.

Florida prohibited finning in 1992, with federal law following in 2000, by requiring sharks be landed in whole condition. In 2010, the Shark Conservation Act strengthened prohibition, making it unlawful to remove fins at sea, have possession of fins aboard a fishing vessel, or transfer fins from one vessel to another at sea.

But Handy said that hasn’t stopped the sale or trade of fins. Catches brought to shore are fair game for the market while various methods of importing and exporting fins have squeezed through loopholes.

According to data from an analysis of SB 884, the prohibition of shark finning in the United States has done little to limit the profit portion of the business. In 2011, the last year for which data is available, the U.S. exported 38 tons and imported 58 tons of shark fins.

Globally, the declared value of exports was $438.6 million, causing several states to ban trading and selling fins in response.

Oceana reports that fins from as many as 73 million sharks make it into the global market every year, with more than 70 percent of the most common shark species involved with fin trade considered at risk for extinction.

Handy said in Florida, tourism profits lean heavily on live shark experiences.

“The value of the fin industry is nothing compared to the value of a living shark to the economy,” she said. “People want to go out and see sharks.”

Chris Castle, a captain at Wide Open Charters & Guide Service in St. Augustine, said sharks are a big draw for vacationers.

“In summer, it’s a big thing the tourists want to see,” he said.

Nearly all fishing experiences involving sharks are catch-and-release, Castle added. Visitors are mostly content with the story of fighting the shark from a fishing line.

Environmentalists fear the fin industry could do more than just damage tourism profits in Florida.

“Sharks take a long time to mature and have very small litters,” said Clay Van Kuiken, a coastal environmental science major at Flagler College. “Some sharks can take almost 20 years just to reach sexual maturity, so its harder for them to rebuild populations.”

Van Kuiken assists the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association by catching and tagging sharks. He records basic information so scientists can document the sharks’ travel and growth over time.

He explained sharks maintain the ocean’s ecosystem, but human-induced threat are disrupting the balance.

“Sharks are the apex predator in our waters and they use ‘top-down control’ to control all the other species in the ecosystem,” Van Kuiken said. “… The top predator in an ecosystem is crucial for the balance of the ecosystem.”

Handy said for now, she’s keeping her fingers crossed a recent federal bill called the Shark Fin Sales Elimination Act (H.R. 1456), will make it through Legislature and trump state laws.

“The federal bill, which would ban the trade and sale of shark fins in the entire United State, would make state bills unnecessary,” she said,

The end-goal, she said, is to shrink the shark fin market one nation at a time.

“Cutting the U.S. out of the market would significantly reduce the market globally,” Handy said. “It would set an example for other countries to do the same.”

Online

Current bill: https://www.flsenate.gov/Session/Bill/2017/884/BillText/c1/PDF

Original bill: https://www.flsenate.gov/Session/Bill/2017/884/BillText/__/PDF

Richey Esbin 8 months ago
Fact is most sharks are caught as "by catch",  meaning they are not actively targeted.  Most are dead when caught on longlines.
Bringing them to the dock in whole condition shows they haven't died a slow death by having the fins removed
The federal law works fine and applies to over 95% of all sharks caught
Joe Coleman 8 months ago
Can you give a source for your 95% statistic?
Dave C 8 months ago
Defending finning by citing long lining? That's ridiculous, you know? Long-lining is an indiscriminate and inefficient killer and should be banned also. Using your own figures about 35 tons of fins alone come from long-lining by catch, that's criminal or should be.
GWENDOLYN DUNCAN 8 months ago
My heart aches for the sharks...Looks like the shark in the picture is crying and shedding tears of blood...So sad. :(
Steven Marque 8 months ago
A vital story told with deft aplomb by a seriosly well-informed & objective journalist. This is the sort of writing that makes papers great! Please keep up the terrific work!
 

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