Palm Coast Republican Sen. Travis Hutson is co-sponsoring a bill to ban the import and export of shark fins. The proposal made it through a Senate committee unanimously on Tuesday, over the objections of several commercial fishermen who spoke at the meeting.
Shark finning - cutting off a shark’s valuable fins and dumping the rest of the body in the water, where the sharks drown - has been illegal in U.S. waters since 2000. But importing, exporting and selling fins still occurs, when fishermen take sharks to shore and then harvest them legally.
Hutson introduced an amendment to the bill that adds a sunset provision so fishermen with legal federal permits to catch sharks will have until 2025 to adjust to the ban.
“The phase out is a reasonable compromise to give people some time to change what they're doing,” said Stefanie Brendl, the executive director of Shark Allies. “I think that five years is more than generous. It's unusual for any industry to get this much of a phase out.”
Travis Moore represented the Animal Legal Defense Fund and OCEANA at the committee hearing Tuesday. He said 13 states have enacted a similar ban, “None of which come anywhere close to having a five-year sunset,” Moore said. “New Jersey passed this in January 2020. It went into effect immediately.”
Hutson also said he wants to add a required study to the bill to weigh both the economic and environmental impacts of a shark fin ban.
“I wish they would have done that 10 years ago,” Brendl said. “This whole finning issue and fin trade issue has existed and been ringing alarm bells for 20 years.”
But opponents of the bill say a study would show that a finning ban isn’t necessary in the U.S.
“I know what end of it we're going to be on. We're going to be on the good end of any study,” said David Campo, a Florida commercial fisherman, in an interview after the vote Tuesday. “I know what the facts are, and that's why I get aggravated on the environmental side.”
Campo said he’s worked on research for National Marine Fisheries, the Sandbar Shark Research Fishery, Mote Marine Laboratories and the New England Aquarium.
“There's so many sharks that they're becoming a nuisance now for certain fisheries,” Campo said. “We're not out there to devastate everything. We're out here surviving. And that's all we're asking. Just let us keep doing what we're doing.”
He said while other countries are overfishing and finning sharks, federal regulations and quotas in the U.S. maintain the shark population.The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration regulates how many sharks can be harvested per year and limits how many tons of shark can be fished.
Campo said a ban on the importing or exporting finning would eliminate roughly half of the value of harvesting sharks.
“Why are we going to throw away better than 50% of the income from the shark?” Campo said. “On my boat, we actually use 90% of the shark.”
According to Campo, environmentalists' estimates on shark finning are inaccurate because other countries have no regulations on how many sharks can be harvested.
But researchers and environmentalists believe the bill is necessary to cut the finning trade worldwide.
“What this bill is trying to do is cut out that waypoint, so that we give them less of an option on how they’re going to ship this stuff to Asia,” said Tyler Bowling, the manager of the Florida Program for Shark Research.
Shark fins are primarily used for soup. Blacktip, thresher, and shortfin mako sharks are harvested for their meat, according to Brendl.
“Just because you're making money off the product is not a justification why we should keep doing it,” Brendl said. “I'm sure that lots of people made money off of selling ivory. But we would never use that as a justification to keep supporting the trade.”
Hutson’s Senate bill must pass one more committee before it reaches the floor. A similar House bill, cosponsored by Republican St. Augustine Rep. Cyndi Stevenson, is on the calendar for consideration by the full chamber.