House lawmakers on the Business and Professions Subcommittee heard strong public opinions on legislation that would ban the sale, import and export of shark fins Wednesday.
The legislation (HB 401), sponsored by Coconut Creek Democrat Rep. Kristin Jacobs, passed its second committee 13-2, with Republicans Reps. Randy Fine of South Brevard County and Jason Fischer of Jacksonville casting the no-votes.
Shark finning is the process of catching a shark, removing its fins and discarding the shark. Jacobs said shark finners usually drop the body back into the ocean, where it bleeds to death or drowns because it can no longer swim properly.
The fins are then dried and ground into a powder and used to make shark fin soup, a delicacy in China. About half of the dried shark fin market is brokered through Hong Kong. The Miami Herald in 2018 reported the city was a leader in the amount of shark fins imported from Hong Kong.
The practice of shark finning was banned in the U.S. in 2000. And state law prohibits the mass capturing of sharks and only keeping the fins. But the trade of shark fins is legal and the fins are being imported through Florida ports by countries that don’t have bans in place — such as China, Indonesia, and Japan.
“There was a loophole in our law,” Jacobs said. “And said ‘Well, it may not make sense to you, but while it’s illegal to cut the fins off of sharks, it’s not illegal to sell them, to ship them, import them or export them into the state of Florida.
“This is more than just about protecting our reefs and a host of endangered species, this is about protecting thousands of Florida jobs, hundreds of millions in tourist dollars and recognizing that the continued decimation of sharks in our waters will hurt all of us,” Jacobs continued. “Divers and recreational anglers love sharks, if they can’t find them here, they will head to other countries to enjoy their splendor — and nobody wants that.”
Shark fins may still be legally bought and sold in Florida. A fisherman here may only catch one shark per day, and each vessel is limited to two sharks per day. They must bring the shark on shore with the head, fins and tail attached.
Some opponents argue the legislation is unnecessary or potentially even harmful. Michael Merrifield of the Cape Canaveral Shrimp Company disputes there’s a loophole in state law.
“U.S. Florida fishermen are not unscrupulously, illegally finning sharks,” he said. “No dock operator would risk the penalty or NGO onslaught that would occur.”
Nearly 200 Florida business, including over 50 scuba and dive shop operators have signed on to the bill and are joined by oceanographic institutions including Cousteau Ocean Learning Center, Wyland Foundation and the Guy Harvey Foundation.
Harvey, a famed angler and artist, told Florida Politics last year that “any and every sensible person agrees the shark fin trade is diabolical and we shouldn’t put up with it,”
Jacobs bill passed it’s first House committee 12-2. A companion bill (SB 680) sponsored by Republican Sen. Travis Hutson of Palm Coast has been introduced in the Senate.