Shark Week starts on Sunday. This year, it falls during a period when we are hearing much about wildlife trade as a source of disease, and as an ecologically damaging, inhumane activity. The animals usually discussed, like tigers and pangolins, seem far away from most Americans’ everyday lives. Yet a major product on the global wildlife market involves ocean animals that are important right here in Florida: sharks.
Every year, as many as 73 million sharks are killed worldwide for their fins, which are used in shark fin soup — a luxury dish in some parts of Asia. Shark populations worldwide are declining, some by as much as 90%, and up to one-quarter of sharks and their related species face extinction.
We can remove the United States from this devastating global trade once and for all. The Shark Fin Sales Elimination Act, S. 877, sits ready for action in the U.S. Senate after overwhelmingly passed the U.S. House of Representatives last fall.
I urge Sens. Marco Rubio and Rick Scott to stand for sharks by supporting this legislation. Rubio, as chairman of the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, should be especially interested in this bill due to sharks’ economic benefits to Florida from tourism.
Live sharks are more valuable to Florida than dead sharks. In 2016, shark-related diving in the state generated more than $221 million and supported more than 3,700 jobs. By contrast, the United States exported only $1.03 million worth of shark fins in 2015.
Fifteen states and three U.S. territories have banned or limited the sale of shark fins within their borders. The Florida Legislature took a first step by passing a bill banning the import of shark fins. Now, we need a national framework.
S. 877 prohibits commercial trade of shark fins and products containing shark fins throughout the country. In so doing, the legislation strengthens the U.S. ban on the horrific practice of shark finning, where a shark’s fins are sliced off and the animal thrown back in the water to drown, bleed to death, or be eaten alive by other fish.
The confiscation last winter of 1,400 pounds of shark fins at Port Miami highlights the United States’ harmful role in this transnational trade. Our nation is a significant transit hub for shark fins, especially from Latin America — one of the world’s major shark-fishing regions — to Asia.
As an experienced diver and a U.S. Coast Guard captain for more than 20 years, I have come to appreciate how important sharks are for healthy oceans and enjoy the beauty of diving with them.
We Floridians are lucky to have sharks play a unique role in our local ocean, culture, and economy. The Shark Fin Sales Elimination Act, S. 877, is the most effective way to honor that relationship and protect these magnificent creatures from the fin trade.
I call on Rubio and Scott to ensure its passage, and I urge readers to do the same.
Fred Brodsky is the head of the Brodsky Charitable Foundation Trust, an ardent environmentalist and a shark advocate.