Editor's note: This story has been corrected to remove references to governor's office position. The governor's office says it has not taken a position on the federal legislation.
- Photo via Oceana Facebook
Florida wildlife officials want to look at banning the importation of shark fins through the state's ports.
But they are not getting behind a federal proposal to prohibit possession of shark fins.
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission Executive Director Nick Wiley directed staff, after hearing from members of the commission and the public Monday, to look into what the agency can do about the importation of shark fins and determine what “we need to be pushing on that if we can.”
With fins considered a delicacy in parts of Asia, "finning" is an illegal practice in Florida and the U.S. It involves cutting off shark fins at sea and then discarding the sharks.
Commissioner Robert Spottswood was among those who questioned why the state allows the importation of shark fins separate from the rest of shark bodies.
“We require, with regard to fish that are imported, species that they follow our size limits,” Spottswood said. “Why do we allow shark fins to come in from people who don't support the ban on shark finning? I don't understand.”
The commission, however, did not lend support to a proposal before Congress intended to expand the nation's ban on shark finning.
Eight members of the Florida's congressional delegation are co-sponsors of the proposal: Republicans Carlos Curbelo, Vern Buchanan, Matt Gaetz and Ted Yoho and Democrats Ted Deutch, Debbie Wasserman Schultz, Darren Soto and Charlie Crist.
Critics of the federal proposal are concerned, in part, about potential impacts on commercial fishermen.
The federal proposal has drawn opposition from the marine industry, while opinions from conservationists appear split on the issue.
“Yes, the United States is not the number one contributor, but when the U.S. steps up and leads, others do follow,” said Lora Snyder, with the international advocacy organization Oceana.
Snyder wants the commission to support the federal proposal, saying the need to sustain the shark population is vital to Florida. Snyder also equated the fin issue to past acceptance of trade in elephant tusks.
“We are participating in the global trade, so much like the demand for ivory has jeopardized elephant population,” Snyder said. “It's this demand for fins that is contributing to the population declines for sharks.”
Yet, Robert Hueter, a shark researcher and associate vice president for research at Sarasota-based Mote Marine Laboratory & Aquarium, in supporting the commission's stance, said an expanded U.S. ban on possession won't solve the international trade.
Hueter noted the U.S. exports less than 1 percent of the shark fins on the market and imports 0.2 percent.
“Whatever we give up will likely be filled up by nations practicing less sustainable fishing than the U.S.,” Hueter said.
More importantly, the “well-meaning” federal proposal could harm Florida businesses, he said.
A better approach, Hueter said, would be to stop the importing of all shark products from nations that don't practice sustainable shark fishing, particularly those that still permit finning.
"Some authority already exists to do this," he said.
Hueter also supported state legislation signed into law by Scott in May (SB 884) that increased penalties for people who violate a state law about the illegal possession of shark fins.
The state requires sharks harvested in Florida waters to be brought ashore in a whole condition. The new law, which goes into effect Oct. 1., would increase fines and penalties for people illegally in possession of shark fins.
Commissioner Ron Bergeron said the federal proposal appears “like a waste to me.”
“I was always raised that every animal your hunt or fish, you use every part of it,” Bergeron said. “I think we have plenty of protection, and we're only 1 percent of the whole global picture of the shark fins.”
Commissioner Michael Sole added that “it's clear that the problem is not here.”
“If we're trying to address the problems that are occurring in other nations, through commerce … (this) seems to be the right path; not to completely turn upside down a fishery that is being managed appropriately,” Sole said.