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Bill banning sale of shark fins primed for final Senate action

The bill calls for a study on the impact of a ban on commercial fishermen.

Legislation to outlaw the sale and import and export of fins to or from Florida is tee’d up for a Senate floor vote. The chamber rolled the legislation over from second to third reading.

Lawmakers adopted two amendments to the bill (SB 680), sponsored by Republican Sen. Travis Hutson. One of the amendments calls for the Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission to evaluate the potential economic impact a ban will have on the commercial shark fishing industry. The commission would have to report their findings to the governor, the Senate president and the House speaker by Dec. 31, 2023.

The other amendment allows current commercial fishermen who already have a license to harvest shark fins to have another five to continue to do so. The language sunsets January 1, 2025.

Shark fining is the process of catching a shark, removing its fins and discarding the shark. They 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.

Current 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. 

Jerry Sansom of the Organized Fishermen of Florida has said during the committee process that Florida has more fisherman than any other state licensed by the federal government to participate in the heavily regulated and fully sustainable practice of capturing sharks.

While sunset provision is there to assuage fishermen’s concerns that the ban will hurt them economically, Sansom said it signals concern about the industry’s future viability.

“I don’t remember when the Florida Senate has put an expiration date on an industry before they made us come back and get a pardon,” he said.

Environmental groups and animal rights advocates have fought for years to stop the practice of finning.

Prominent artist Guy Harvey, founder of the Guy Harvey Research Institute at Nova Southeastern University in Fort Lauderdale, penned an op-ed in Florida Politics this week advocating for the bill.

“What we know — beyond the shadow of any doubt — is that the world’s shark populations are being threatened by overfishing, in part to meet the demand of the shark fin trade,” he wrote. “Finning a shark is the unethical and illegal practice of catching sharks en masse, taking only their fins and often sending the remaining carcasses to the bottom of the ocean.”

The House companion bill (HB 401), sponsored by Democratic Coconut Creek State Rep. Kristin Jacobs, is ready for a House vote. She is pushing to get this through this session as she battles colorectal cancer. Jacobs missed part of last year’s Legislative Session as she underwent treatment for cancer, but returned two weeks into the session.

Her cancer was originally diagnosed in 2016 and returned last year.

Written By

Sarah Mueller has extensive experience covering public policy. She earned her bachelor’s degree in journalism in 2010. She began her career covering local government in Texas, Georgia and Colorado. She returned to school in 2016 to earn a master’s degree in Public Affairs Reporting. Since then, she’s worked in public radio covering state politics in Illinois, Florida and Delaware. If you'd like to contact her, send an email to sarah@floridapolitics.com.

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