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Protecting the Predators

Overfishing is severely decimating shark populations, with dire consequences
for the world’s oceans.

Beginning the first of this month, a ban went into effect prohibiting the possession, sale and exchange of tiger sharks and great escalloped and smooth hammerhead sharks harvested in Florida waters. It was a major victory for concerned citizens, scientists, shark researchers, divers and anglers.

Beginning the first of this month, a ban went into effect prohibiting the possession, sale and exchange of tiger sharks and great escalloped and smooth hammerhead sharks harvested in Florida waters. It was a major victory for concerned citizens, scientists, shark researchers, divers and anglers.

If scary images from the movie Jaws come to mind, you’re not alone. Portrayed on film as dangerous predators that target human beings, nothing could be further from the truth – in reality, most sharks avoid human contact, preferring to feast on crustaceans, fish, seals and birds. The issue environmentalists have been concerned about is that the shark population has declined significantly over the last 20 years mainly due to severe overfishing. This is the result of demand in China and other Asian countries for shark-fin soup, a delicacy that has generated a lucrative, billion-dollar market.

Every year, as many as 73 million sharks are slaughtered, mainly for their fins. As West Palm Beach diver, underwater photographer and passionate conservationist Jim Abernethy emphasizes, “No other animal on the planet has been wiped out by another species (humans) like the shark.”

That’s because sharks play a vital role in the balance of the marine ecosystem. As they die out, other marine life will follow and the health of the world’s oceans, which cover the vast majority of the planet’s surface, will crumble.

The good news is that at a November 16 meeting in Key Largo, the Florida Fish & Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) voted to prohibit the possession, sale and exchange of tiger sharks and great, scalloped and smooth hammerhead sharks harvested from in Florida’s waters.

The ban goes into effect the first of this month (January 1, 2012) and Dr. Mikki McComb-Kobza, postdoctoral researcher of ocean exploration and deep-sea research at the Harbor Branch Oceanographic Institute in Fort Pierce, couldn’t be happier.

“Shark finning is occurring globally on an unsustainable scale,” she says. “Here is what we know locally. Sharks are being finned in the Indian River Lagoon right now. Why? Money. The fisherman who does this can sell the fins (all of them) and get about $40, which is a pittance when compared to the value that a live shark has for the lagoon ecosystem in the long run.

What are the fins used for? They are traded mostly in Singapore and Hong Kong for shark fin soup, a flavorless concoction that is a Chinese cultural status symbol. If you can afford a bowl of shark fin soup ($100/USD) you are considered wealthy. With a large emerging middle class in China you can see where this is going – and it’s not good for the shark.” Not good for the ecosystem and future generations either.

Read the entire article in the January 2012 issue