Florida Shark Fishing Law Enacted, Fin Trade Outlawed

Florida’s governor signed a new law on Sept. 18th intended to end shark fin trade, while allowing Florida’s commercial shark longliners to continue fishing in federal waters.

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The law bans the possession and sale or shipment, domestic or international, of shark fins in Florida’s air or seaports.

An estimated 73 million sharks end up in the global market annually. Florida is North America’s largest underground market, relative to the import and transport of illegal shark fins. Shark fins currently harvested in the waters of Central and South America are commonly shipped through Florida’s major ports. 

The law has been celebrated by some environmental organizations for being a big step in the efforts to protect sharks from overfishing. It also has been criticized by others, who claim the law contains loopholes allowing commercial fishermen to continue to reduce shark populations globally. 

Ryan Orgera, executive director of the Sanibel-Captiva Conservation Foundation, said the law helps control an important problem. However, he said, there needs to be more legislation to stop the U.S. connection to the practice.

Orgera worked in international shark conservation before being selected for his current position. “Most of the shark fin industry is illegally operating, and over half of that can be traced to Hong Kong,” Orgera said. “Hong Kong is getting better at stopping it by having trained officials. However, other Southeast Asian countries, like Vietnam, do not have the mechanisms or political will to crack down on the illegal trade of wildlife.”

Demand for shark fins is at its heart a social desire to reflect a high social status in many cultures. As Chinese residents became wealthy very quickly and the middle class grew, shark fin soup became a way to show one’s wealth. The Chinese government banned shark fin soup at official government events, but that’s not helping influence the trade. 

Shark-diving tourism has a value of $220 million of profit and annual income in Florida. A scientific journal biological conservation study done recently shows that shark-diving tourism brings in $113 million annually to the Bahamas. 

State Rep. Toby Overdorf, who works with sharks for years through active projects and organizations, previously a biologist, was among the co-sponsors of the new legislation. “I was able to help pass a bill to protect these species,” Overdorf said sharks deserve the respect of humans. 

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