Bills cracking down on shark finning, bear poaching advance in Senate

Bears and Sharks
Bills address illegal slaughters of Florida sharks, bears to satisfy Asian markets.

Bills to make Florida shark fins and Florida bear bile harder to come by in overseas markets both advanced Monday with unanimous approvals by the Senate Committee on Environment and Natural Resources.

Despite some audience consternation about what the bill might do to the legal shark fishing trade in Florida, SB 680, banning the export and import and restricting the sales of shark fins won committee approval while sponsor Sen. Travis Hutson, the Palm Coast Republican, promised to work with fishermen to find ways to protect legal shark fishing.

On Monday he amended the bill to exempt licensed commercial fishermen in Florida, but made clear there still was more work to do to ease the legal fishing community’s concerns.

“Everybody has made it clear: It’s not as simple as catch-and-release. There’s a lot more going on here,” Hutson said.

SB 688, Sen. Tom Wright‘s bill to tough penalties against bear poaching, faced no such resistance.

Both bills address blackmarket sales that lead to Asian-sought products, shark fins, considered a delicacy, particularly in China, and bear bile, considered a folk medicine, also particularly in China.

The concerns for sharks involves a practice called “shark finning,” the process of catching a shark, removing its fins, and discarding the shark carcass back into the sea.

The practice of shark finning was banned in the United States 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.

Witnesses told the Senate Committee on Environment and Natural Resources that shark finning is blamed for a dramatic falloff of shark populations in water around Florida in the past few decades, a collapse that not only throws off the ecological balance in those waters, but hurts Florida’s ecotourism industry, particularly the tourist diving sector.

“Finning does still continue,” said Stefanie Brendl, executive director and president of Shark Allies, an organization dedicated to the protection and conservation of sharks and rays, with more than 100 member organizations in Florida. She noted that big finning boats can harvest up to 45 large sharks a day.

Bear hunting already is illegal in Florida, outside of rare state-approved bear hunts, the last of which occurred in 2015. Wright’s bill would increase the state violation of taking or possession of bears or bear parts outside of bear season to level three, increasing the minimum fine to $750, plus adding a three-year suspension of a hunting license. Florida has not had a bear hunt season since 2015.

The House companion for the bear poaching bill, HB 327, from Rep. David Smith, a Winter Springs Republican, already has been approved by three committees and is awaiting floor action in the House of Representatives.

The House shark fin bill, HB 401, from Rep. Kristin Jacobs, a Coconut Creek Democrat, has passed two committees and would increase the severity of crime associated with bear poaching to a level 3, meaning anyone caught killing or possessing Florida black bears outside of a bear hunting season would face a minimum fine of $750, plus a three-year suspension of a hunting license.

Scott Powers

Scott Powers is an Orlando-based political journalist with 30+ years’ experience, mostly at newspapers such as the Orlando Sentinel and the Columbus Dispatch. He covers local, state and federal politics and space news across much of Central Florida. His career earned numerous journalism awards for stories ranging from the Space Shuttle Columbia disaster to presidential elections to misplaced nuclear waste. He and his wife Connie have three grown children. Besides them, he’s into mystery and suspense books and movies, rock, blues, basketball, baseball, writing unpublished novels, and being amused. Email him at [email protected].


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