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Florida Moves To Ban Imports Of Shark Fins; Bill Awaits Gov. DeSantis' Signature

Men removing a fin from a shark
Ed Zirkel cuts the fins off of a shark while standing on the cooler aboard the Miss Maggie on Thursday, February 13, 2020, in Madeira Beach, Fla. Zirkel has been working on the Miss Maggie for 6 years and has been fishing for 15 years.

A bill banning the import of shark fins in Florida was awaiting the signature of Gov. Ron DeSantis on Friday, after the House and Senate approved it this week.

The Senate passed SB 680 on Thursday after significant changes. The bill is named the Kristin Jacobs Ocean Conservation Act after Rep. Kristin Jacobs, D-Coconut Creek, who originally proposed the legislation.

“What an incredible honor,” Jacob said in an interview. “It’s a huge win for the health of our oceans.” Jacobs spoke to Fresh Take Florida, a news service operated by the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications.

PREVIOUS STORY: Ban On Selling, Exporting Shark Fins Closer To Passing In Florida

If DeSantis were to sign the bill within two weeks after the legislative session ends next week, it would become law effective Oct. 1.

The bill underwent significant changes to appease Florida’s federally permitted shark anglers. Initially, it sought to ban not just imports but also exports and sales of shark fins.

The amended proposal allows shark fishermen who already have federal permits to continue to sell the fins of sharks they catch. However, no new or transferred permits will be accepted by the state, meaning the fin sales will die with the fishermen.

The bill also requires the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to conduct a sustainability study on the practice to determine whether any other legal changes might be necessary.

Men removing a fin from a shark
Ed Zirkel, 30, and Sam Koury, 45, pull a shark out of the cooler aboard the Miss Maggie to cut off its fins and prepare it for packaging on Thursday, February 13, 2020, in Madeira Beach.

The compromise was intended to allow current shark fishermen to keep their businesses afloat while targeting the illegal and inhumane black market for fins.

RELATED: Florida Fishermen Fret As Shark Fin Sale Ban Moves Forward

“We’re very happy with the bill,” said Stefanie Brendl, executive director of Shark Allies, a shark advocacy non-profit based in Hawaii. “The important part is that the imports are banned from now on and the enforcement can be increased,” she said. “That was the biggest problem.”

The bill sets up financial and legal consequences for anyone caught violating the ban. First offenders would be subject to a $4,500 fine, a second-degree misdemeanor conviction and 180-day license suspension. Second offenders would face a $9,500 fine and year-long license suspension. Third offenders would pay a $9,500 fine and face permanent license suspension.

Jacobs tweeted a picture of a plush shark toy in front of the printed House votes. She thanked her colleague and bill sponsor Sen. Travis Hutson, R-Palm Coast, and said she cried with other representatives on the House floor as the bill passed.

“I’m thrilled that we found that place of agreement,” she said. “Both sides feel like they gave more than they should have, and you know the old yarn -- when that happens, you know you have a good bill.”

A shark fishermen in Madeira Beach who previously opposed the bill, Dave Campo, said he accepted the compromise but objected to the state study of his industry. He said the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration already gathers enough data.

“I’m OK with the fact that they stopped the imports coming through,” Campo said, “but I’m not OK with them impeding on domestic fishermen. We’re fishing, for now.”

This story was produced by Fresh Take Florida, a news service of the University of Florida College of Journalism and Communications. The reporter can be reached at divanov@freshtakeflorida.com

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