By GHM Staff | PHOTOS BY Shawn Heinrichs
The shark fin business is massive in at least two ways. One, it’s a billion dollar global industry. Two, it’s responsible for the annihilation of more than 70 million sharks per year. All of this mass killing of sharks is, sadly, just to fill a bowl with soup: shark fin soup. Sharks are caught, often illegally, and their fins are cut off to go to market. This high demand for shark fins in Asia, and the popular soup it flavors, fuels the global shark fin trade — with a large portion of the fins harvested illegally.
For years, Florida has been a major hub of the shark fin trade. For shark advocates, this has been a black eye for a state where shark dives and other shark-related tourism generates millions of dollars for the state. More importantly, sharks are apex predators and are essential for maintaining an ecological balance in the oceans. Remove sharks, and the pyramid of life begins to crumble from the top down.
Through the hard work of the Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation, Shark Allies and other shark-friendly organizations, Florida recently became the 14th state to take action in stopping the large-scale harvesting and decimation of shark populations. In September, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis signed into law a bill that bans the importation of shark fins into Florida and closes loopholes that enabled the illegal shark fin trade to thrive.
The law finally puts an end to a long list of regulations and loopholes that prevented the proper enforcement of the existing Florida shark finning ban, which was implemented in 2012. Prior to the law, Florida ports had become a major hub for the transport of illegal shark fins to China and other Asian countries, where shark fin soup is a delicacy at weddings and other special events.
“State fin bans have paved the way to make a campaign for a national fin ban a possibility,” says Stefanie Brendl, Executive Director of Shark Allies. “There simply is no reason why Florida ports needed to keep allowing fin shipments in hopes that national legislation would eventually fix the problem. Local action matters. It is the pathway to national action.
The Kristin Jacobs Ocean Conservation Act, named after the late Rep. Kristin Jacobs, was introduced in late 2019 and approved by the House and Senate in March. Rep. Jacobs co-spearheaded the legislation with support from the GHOF, Shark Allies and Senate bill sponsor Sen. Travis Hutson (R-Palm Coast).
“Prohibiting the importation of shark fins into Florida is a tremendous first step in protecting global shark populations. Until now, Florida’s airports and seaports were the main thoroughfare for illegal fins from the Caribbean and Central America,” said Dr. Guy Harvey. “We appreciate the efforts of Rep. Jacobs and wish she were here with us to see the results of her diligent work. We also thank the governor for his support and will continue to push this legislation nationally.”
This is a monumental victory for shark conservation advocates in North America since Florida has been the No. 1 hub for the sale, import and transport of ill-gotten shark fins. Researchers from Nova Southeastern University’s Guy Harvey Research Institute (GHRI) determined that fins from upward of 73 million sharks end up in the global market annually.
“I am grateful that the Kristin Jacobs Ocean Conservation Act is now a part of Florida law and moves our state in the right direction of putting an end to the ecologically harmful and morally repugnant practice of illegal shark finning,” said Hutson.
“The state of Florida has been a key component of a movement toward ending the fin trade in the U.S.,” said Brendl. “While a nationwide ban is the ultimate goal, it is uncertain when that will become a reality and whether that effort will have to come with exemptions and concessions, as most federal acts do. Having state and federal legislation in place assures that sharks receive protection sooner, rather than later.”
For more information, go to SharkAllies.com, a 501 (c)(3) nonprofit organization dedicated to the protection and conservation of sharks and rays by focusing on taking action, raising awareness and guiding initiatives that reduce the destructive overfishing of sharks. The organization has deep roots in shark fin trade legislation, creating the first of its kind in Hawaii in 2010.