Converting Florida Marinas Critical to Health of Shark Populations
The Shark-Free Marinas Initiative (SFMI) is reaching out to marinas in Florida to ask for their support in conserving the world’s shark populations. Organized as a cooperative by the Pegasus Foundation, the Guy Harvey Ocean Foundationand The Humane Society of the United States, the SFMI aims to reduce shark mortality worldwide by discouraging the landing of sharks and encouraging catch-and-release of sharks in sport fishing, while rewarding forward-thinking marinas that participate in this program. Supporting organizations include Mote Marine Laboratory, the Pew Environment Group, Fishpond USA and theFisheries Conservation Foundation.
“Shark populations worldwide have suffered severe declines due to over-fishing,” says world renowned artist, angler and conservationist, Dr. Guy Harvey, “Marinas in Florida can now do their part to help conserve these ecologically vital animals by joining the SFMI.”
Sharks are currently being killed at an unsustainable rate. A scientific study published by Imperial College, London estimated that the fins of from 26 million up to 73 million sharks per year were being traded through the world’s fin markets as of the year 2000, mostly for shark fin soup. In addition, the U.S. government estimates that recreational fishing killed an average of more than 200,000 sharks along the U.S. Gulf and Atlantic coast each year between 2004 and 2008.
“Many sharks species have declined because of overfishing, which recreational fishing has contributed to in the U.S.,” notes Dr. Robert Hueter, senior scientist and director, Mote Marine Laboratory’s Center for Shark Research. “Sustaining these species is in the interest of recreational anglers as well as marine conservationists.”
Marinas in Florida can help reduce the number of sharks being killed by joining the SFMI and preventing dead sharks from being brought back to their docks. “There is no state more important to the success of this initiative in the United States than Florida, the sport-fishing capital of the world,” says Luke Tipple, managing director of the SFMI. “”Because of the number of shark species off Florida, and the sheer number of nursery grounds and migratory routes located there, protecting Florida’s sharks is critical to maintaining the health of Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico waters.”
SFMI supporter John Land Le Coq, co-founder of Fishpond USA, agrees. “Sharks are the guardians of the ocean and play an essential part in the health of the ocean. Most anglers I know are very concerned about the status of sharks. I hope every marina in Florida joins this important program. ”
According to Dr. John Grandy, senior vice president, The Humane Society of the United States, “Thousands of dollars in prizes are offered in shark tournaments that the government itself acknowledges are poorly monitored. Kill tournaments and misinformed media support the antiquated concept that the only good shark is a dead shark. This has to change.”
There are two different levels of commitment for an interested marina. It can either become a “Shark-Free Marina” that completely prohibits the landing of all sharks on its docks or a “Shark-Friendly Marina” — a facility that discourages the killing and landing of sharks and does not promote any activity that could harm sharks.
“The SFMI works in tandem with businesses and fishermen to increase the awareness of the need to protect our sharks and oceans,” says Barbara Birdsey, founder of the Pegasus Foundation. “This is a voluntary program that will prevent the needless killing of these ecologically and economically vital animals.” Each marina will also receive recognition around the world as a partner in this growing initiative.
Dr. Harvey summarizes: “I encourage recreational fishermen everywhere to join with me and SFMI to help protect sharks and our oceans. Our world needs sharks.”
- The U.S. government estimates that, on average, more than 200,000 sharks were killed annually off the U.S. Atlantic and Gulf coast by sport fishermen for each year between 2004 and 2008.
- In 2009, close to 2,000 shortfin mako sharks were killed in recreational and commercial fisheries in the U.S., leading the National Marine Fisheries Service to declare that shortfin mako sharks are “overfished.” Despite asking fishermen to voluntarily release these sharks unharmed, tournaments targeting makos have continued.
- Today the dusky shark population in the northwestern Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico is estimated to have lost 80-85 percent of its population since the mid-1970s, according to research cited by a 2011 NMFS report. The NMFS prohibited recreational fishermen from possessing duskies starting in in 2000, but they can be difficult to identify and some sport fishermen still catch and release them.
- Forward thinking anglers have already created new fishing tournaments that help conserve sharks and support marine research. For example, in 2011, the Guy Harvey Ultimate Shark Challenge, an annual Catch and Release Tournament in SW Florida awarded $10,000 in prizes for research related tagging, while the Ocean City (Md.) Shark Tournament awarded $30,000 in prizes in its Catch and Release Division.
- The Shark-Free Marina Initiative is a program of The Humane Society of the United States. It is strongly supported by the Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation, Fishpond USA, Mote Marine Laboratory, Oceanic Defense, The Fisheries Conservation Foundation, the Cape Eleuthera Institute and the Pegasus Foundation.