Florida lawmakers water down bill that would've banned the sale of shark fins

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PHOTO VIA OCEANA FACEBOOK
  • Photo via Oceana Facebook
A Florida senate bill that would have eliminated the sale and trade of shark fins was amended last week, weakening punishments for the lucrative business.

The original SB 884 bill, filed in February by Republican Sen. Travis Hutson, outlined in strong language the punishment and violations of the sale, distribution and trade of the fins.

The practice of shark finning while at sea was outlawed back in 2000. The practice involves removing and retaining shark fins on the water while discarding the remainder of the shark’s body, alive, back into the ocean. Without fins, the sharks die.

The fins are used in the popular Asian dish, shark fin soup.

Under current laws, instead of cutting off their fins while out on the water, sharks must be brought to land whole in order to have their fins harvested.

But the original SB 884 looked to completely outlaw the selling and trading of fins in Florida. It would have made it a first-degree misdemeanor to sell or trade shark fins and tails, and would have suspended the permits of fishers found in violation.

With a complete ban, Florida would have joined the 11 other states that have completely banned the sale and trade of shark fins.

In the amended version published March 15, punishment for the sale and trade of fins has been eliminated, and instead, it clarifies that fishers found in possession of the fins while out at sea would receive serious punishments.

This amended version still allows fishers to bring whole sharks to land in order to harvest their fins. In other words, it won't prohibit the selling and trading of fins: It just punishes anyone found with separated fins at sea.

Without a complete ban, SB 884 will likely do little to slow down the finning industry. According to The Florida Times-Union, the U.S. exported 38 tons and imported 58 tons of shark fins in 2011.

Oceana, a nonprofit international organization committed to protecting the world's oceans, says that 73 million sharks make it into the global market every year. More than 70 percent of the most common shark species involved in this global fin trade are considered at risk for extinction.

PHOTO VIA OCEANA
  • Photo via Oceana

Oceana has also found that live sharks are actually about 200 times more valuable than dead ones.

The Oceana study found that divers hoping to see sharks produced more than $221 million in revenue for the state in 2016 and helped supply over 3,700 jobs. Meanwhile, the buying and selling of shark fins nationwide only generated $1 million.

Environmentalists warn that because sharks produce small litters and can take up to 20 years to sexually mature, their populations may suffer if the country continues to allow shark-fin selling and trading.

Sharks also control the ocean's ecosystems as top-down predators, keeping other fish populations in check. Without them, the balance of these habitats becomes out of whack.

A recent federal bill called the Shark Fin Sales Elimination Act (HR 1456) is currently making its way through Congress. If it passes, it would eliminate shark finning nationwide.

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