Sunday, February 15, 2015

The Fight to Save New Jersey's Sharks Heats Up

Greetings everyone. I hope all is well as always! Today's blog is going to be about a New Jersey Senate Economic Growth Committee meeting that took place on Thursday, February 12th, 2015. I was fortunate enough to attend this meeting so I naturally do have a lot of thoughts and feelings about this meeting. Attending the meeting were representatives from the Shark Research Institute, Jenkinson's Aquarium, Born Free USA, The Humane Society USA, The Humane Society International, the Sierra Club, and Garden State Seafood. The bill was proposed by senator Lesniak Before getting into all of that though I will quickly go over the proposed bill (S. 2057).

The bill is largely modeled off the bills that have been passed by 9 states that outlaws the sale and possession of shark fins. What that means is pretty self explanatory. In the states where these laws exist, including New York and California, There are a couple exceptions that the New Jersey bill would contain. The first exception is that "possession"  would not include fins that were taken from a legally landed shark. The fins would not be allowed to be sold, but a fisherman would not be in trouble for possessing shark fins that he obtained by catching a shark. Second, the bill would not include smooth or spiny dogfish, two species of small shark that have seen their populations increase a great deal off of New Jersey. The possession exception gives both commercial and recreational fisherman free ability to continue to fish for sharks, but bars them from profiting on the animal's fins. The second exception is largely for commercial fisheries who ship dogfish meat to Europe to be used in fish and chips and the fins to Asian markets.To sum it up, this bill would be another step in protecting the vast majority of sharks that come by New Jersey throughout the year.

Without the ability to sell the fins, the overall value of a shark plummets. The value of a shark's fins far outweighs the value of it's meat. To top it off, in New Jersey, shortfin mako and thresher are the only two species that are caught for their meat at all (not including the dogfish). So out of the many species that frequents these waters, two are actually caught for meat. The rest, for fins. Competitors of this bill claim that the outlawing of the sale of fins would cause the global value of fins to rise. The mentality of if we don't do it, someone else will was also a claim. Another claim was that this bill would place an economic burden on the state's fisheries. All of these claims I believe to be false. First off, globally, the value of shark fins is in serious question. More and more places are banning shark fin products, airlines are starting not to ship them, and even Hong Kong (Shark fin capital of the world) has banned the serving of shark fin at all government functions. In addition, hotel chains, including those in China have started to stop serving the soup as well. I find it hard to believe that a falling demand would change because New Jersey stopped selling fins.

The mentality of if we don't do it, someone else will is virtually childish. By that same logic you could say "we should rob a bank cause if we don't, someone else will!". Give me a break. This is the type of attitude that will achieve nothing. That excuse has been used time and time again throughout history by these same people. It's really a lame excuse considering how major (minor) or an issue this is. Why did I put minor in parenthesis? Well as I mentioned a claim is that this bill would put a serious burden on the commercial fishing industry in the state. This is false for two reasons. First off... 9 other states (8 of which are coastal states which rely on fishing) have passed similar bills and have felt minimal to no economic impacts as a result of these bills passing. Second of all a virtually microscopic number of the total catch for the year is made up of fins. Hardly a number to start throwing red flags at and fearing a complete commercial collapse. I mean the meat from countless other species easily outweighs fins and overall will be more valuable than the fins by the time all is said and done for the year I would think.

Really what myself and countless others are asking is for the commercial fishing industry of New Jersey to give sharks a little bit of help. Throw them a bone sort to speak. These animals are so important to that industry that they realistically should be on the front lines fighting to save them. In New Jersey, the dogfish situation is a bit different than it is in other places. Around here, there is a very large and increasing population of these animals. My belief is that the exploding population is the result of a sharply decreasing population of large sharks. Do I have issue with the dogfish exception? Right now not so much. The dogfish issue is one that should be fought when the time is right, but right now the time is right to try and cut the head off the shark fin beast in NJ. Both thresher and shortfin mako sharks are listed as "Vulnerable" on the IUCN's Red List with a decreasing population trend. In addition, they are the most sought after shark in the state. That is extremely alarming and should be alarming to the commercial fishermen who think they have a dogfish problem now. Sure, the meat of thresher and mako may fetch more than dogfish meat, but at the end of the day, it's the sale of the fins that really makes the catch worth it for the fishermen.

Obviously I am in full support of this bill. The bill passed the committee and will now move to the state senate. I really do feel that the exceptions that were put in place makes any hit that the commercial fishing industry would take virtually negligible. I think that this bill is designed to help cut the head off the shark fin trade in NJ and as a result help to further protect large species of shark that are in a lot of trouble right now. Will people go against the law and do it anyway? Of course they will, but at least they can be penalized for doing so. Having a federal law against shark finning is one thing. It's a law that will hardly ever actually be enforced. State laws banning shark fin trade however can be upheld and have been upheld in 9 other states.

There is no date set yet for this bill to be looked at by the state senate. When that date becomes public I will be sure to pass it along. The battle to save sharks in New Jersey is starting to heat up once again. Back in 2012 a similar bill was defeated before it even reached the senate. This time around, the bill looks more friendly to commercial fishermen and recreational fishermen. While it is not a true 100% ban on the sale of fins, it is a huge ste in the right direction. I've said all along that the dogfish issue is one that needs to be treated as a separate issue in New Jersey. While it is true that dogfish populations worldwide have declined, the opposite is true for the dogfish of New Jersey whom, along with various rays, continue to see their populations grow among a decreasing large shark population.

As always, thank you all for reading. If you would like to voice your support for this bill feel free to contact or write to New Jersey Senator Raymond Lesniak! You can contact him here http://www.njleg.state.nj.us/SelectRep.asp or check out this page where you can find ore contact info.http://www.njleg.state.nj.us/members/bio.asp?Leg=61 . From this blog I would like to voice a MASSIVE Thank You to Senator Lesniak for bringing this bill back to life and seeing it go to the state senate!

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