End of the Florida shark fin trade? Barbaric practice could be over uprooted completely if two new bills to close law loopholes are passed
A study says that dive tourism and shark encounters in the state can reach over $220 million a year in Florida, in comparison to just $1 million from the fin and meat trade.
Florida is known for a lot of things, but after the ban in California and New York in 2015, it came to be known as the hotspot for the shark fin trade. So far, it is illegal in 12 states in the country, but that too has its loopholes. Two new bills can fix that and conservationists are pushing to get them through legislation.
Current regulations in the US prohibit the act of finning, which is cutting off the fins of a live shark. But allowing a legal market for something so sought after creates a pathway for illegal fins, said Shark Allies founder Stefanie Brendl, whose organization is spearheading the bills. The fins are used to make soup.
"As long as fins can be freely sold and transported, it is nearly impossible to curb finning and the illegal fin trade. Much like elephant ivory, rhino horn, and other endangered species products, the only way to end the trade is by not allowing the possession, sale, or trade of that product. Otherwise, the high profits create incentives to take full advantage of loopholes and to cheat," said Brendl speaking to MEA WorldWide.
Right now, US laws allow "land sharks whole/fins attached" on their land leaving the species-wide open as illegal targets in the sea and to be finned after they've landed. Enforcement remains complicated and beyond the capacity of most agencies, says Brendle and with the species of shark impossible to trace - so enforcement agencies can't tell the difference between fins that were harvested legally or illegally, or if the fins are from an endangered species.
"This means that Miami’s port, which is a hub of international trading, can be unknowingly involved in the illegal trade by transporting fins to/from countries that don’t have finning regulations," she said.
Senate bill SB680 introduced by Senator Travis Hutson and House bill HB401 introduced by Representative Kristin Jacobs could change the game, Brendl says. They will ban the commercial trade of fins in Florida and through Florida’s ports. No one would be allowed to enter fins into the marketplace or sell products made from fins, which goes beyond the existing prohibition on "finning". "Since there would be no legal pathway for the commercial trade of fins, the bills will dramatically simplify and make enforcement more effective because no special training is needed to identify shark fins, no DNA testing is required to confirm species, and existing loopholes will be closed," Brendl said.
After all, sharks are more profitable alive than dead for the state, which has a considerable amount of revenue coming in from shark driven tourism.
An independent study commissioned by Oceana showed that the value of Florida shark diving in 2016 is more than 200 times the value of shark fin exports for the entire US in 2015. The study says that dive tourism and shark encounters in the state can reach over $220 million a year, in comparison to just $1 million from the fin and meat trade.
"Healthy shark populations support the tourism, diving and fishing industries in Florida, directly contributing to the economy and supporting thousands of jobs. Sharks are a renewable resource and can continue contributing to the economy for years to come, but the income from shark finning will ultimately end once there are no more sharks," she said.
Commercial fishing industry big wigs and anyone who profits off it fishermen who specifically target sharks, seafood distributors, fishermen who catch sharks as "bycatch" among others have been pushing back the bill, she said. It is important to show that this is something that matters to more people than the commercial fishing industry, she added.