Sunday, December 13, 2009

Looking forward to a big year for sharks in 2010!!

Most of you have heard the news by now that this Thursday, December 10th, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission approved the draft rule prohibiting the harvest of lemon sharks in Florida waters. Final vote and adoption of this rule is scheduled for the FWC's February meeting in Apalachicola. Yes there's a final vote yet, but the unanimous approval of the rule on Thursday was critical and demonstrates that the Florida FWC Commission truly is leading the way in shark and marine ecosystem conservation!

And luckily the commercial shark fishery in Federal and State waters is currently closed and not scheduled to re-open until July. So this winter's lemon shark aggregations will not be targeted by commercial fishermen.

Thanks to everyone who has supported this effort over the past six months, but first and foremost to Dr. Gruber and Walt Stearns for getting this ball rolling!! The research data provided by Dr Gruber and his dedicated team demonstrated without a doubt the extreme vulnerability of the lemon sharks and provided the justification needed to call for their protection. And Walt Stearns, who first discovered the Palm Beach lemon shark aggregations back in 2001, has worked hand in hand with Dr Gruber, put out the first call for support in the campaign to protect the lemon sharks and has followed through every step of the way. In addition, a number of people attended and spoke at the FWC Commission meetings and Workshops, many letters were written to the Commissioners and over five thousand people signed the lemon shark petition!

Probably the most heartening aspect of this campaign is that scientists, conservationists, recreational fishermen, divers, eco-tour operators and former commercial fishermen have come together to work as a team. No one jumped up and down and made demands. We made reasonable requests and backed them up with scientific and economic data. And the Policy Makers listened.

There are other shark species that are still in need of protection, and for 2010 efforts will focus on Hammerheads, Bull Sharks and Tiger Sharks, all of which have experienced tremendous population declines. Please get involved!

Here's what you can do to make a difference:

1. Attend the FWC workshops and Commission meetings:

Public input is welcome and it does make a difference. Please attend these meetings, speak and fill out the questionnaires provided. At the October Lemon Shark Workshop in Dania Beach, we had a great turnout, but about half of the pro-shark attendees forgot to fill out the questionnaires!! And all of the commercial fishermen there filled them out. Not complaining, we're thrilled and grateful that so many people made the effort to show up! Just something to remember for next time! The reason for holding the Public Workshops is for the FWC to gauge public opinion. So it's important not just to show up, but to make your voice heard. And you don't have to be a scientist or a shark expert to comment!

The next meeting on the schedule is the FWC Commission meeting on February 17-18th in Apalachicola, Florida. Most likely the vote on the Lemon Shark rule will take place on the second day, the 18th. We'll post the agenda and more details as they become available. Apalachicola is on the Florida Panhandle between Tallahassee and Panama City. Please contact us if you'll be able to make it.

2. Provide scientific research:

If you are a shark scientist, and have any data that is relevant to protection of these shark species -- published studies, ongoing or planned studies, ideas for studies, etc., please contact us. Scientific data is absolutely critical -- documentation of population declines, value of sharks to the ecosystem, value of sharks to the economy, documentation on life history characteristics, important nursery habitat areas, etc. We can get you in touch with other scientists as well as foundations that are interested in funding this type of research.

3. Stay informed:

Register to receive updates to this blog and / or become a fan on Facebook for updates (click the Follow / Facebook buttons on the right side of the page). We will provide the information on dates, places and issues. And we will research the issues and give you an overview so that you can be informed when you get to the meeting.

4. Send written comments:

If you live out of state or can't make it to the meetings, then write a short letter to the Commissioners. Again we'll provide overviews of the issues so that you can comment intelligently.

5. Get involved with other shark protection efforts:

For those of you from other coastal states in the US and other countries, please get involved with efforts to protect sharks in your waters. Go to the website for the state or country fisheries management authority. Get on the mailing list for updates, notification of meetings and proposed rule changes. Find out what other groups are already involved and contact them to find out how you can best contribute!

More and more, the message is spreading that sharks are vitally important to the health of our planet and that they are in trouble. There's momentum on the policy side -- more countries are passing no shark finning legislation and stricter limits on shark harvesting. And there's also momentum on the movement to reduce demand for shark products. The Shark Savers / Wild Aid "Say No to Shark Fin Soup" campaign raised funds for over 1000 billboards in less than three weeks and is going strong. Meanwhile several groups have been successful in persuading nutritional supplements makers to drop their shark cartilage products and many cosmetics makers have switched from shark based ingredients to plant based alternatives. And the list of success stories continues to grow!

There's hope for sharks so let's all pull together and make a difference in 2010!

Saturday, December 5, 2009

One Big Step Closer to Protection for Florida's Lemon Sharks!

The Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission have proposed a draft rule that will prohibit all harvest of lemon sharks in Florida State waters.

Dr. Gruber and his team from the Bimini Shark Lab and Walt Stearns, publisher of the Underwater Journal initiated this campaign to add lemon sharks to fully protected status in Florida waters. And several conservation groups (Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation, Shark Foundation, Shark Safe Network, Oceanic Defense, Shark Savers) and shark eco-tourism operators (Jim Abernethy, Emerald Charters, Jupiter Dive Center, Captain Ken Harris) have joined them in this effort.

You can help too!! Here's what you can do :

1. Attend the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission meeting December 10th in Clewiston, Florida (Details). It's very important that people show up at the meeting to voice their support for the protection of lemon sharks. We can help you with preparing your comments. Please contact us if you can attend.

2. If you can't make the meeting, you can still submit written comments to:

Mail: Kathleen Hampton
Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission
620 South Meridian Street
Tallahassee, FL 32399-1600

See the sample letter below. You may modify this letter to include your personal observations or interest in having these animals protected. Please keep it positive and to the point!

3. Sign the Petition to Protect Lemon Sharks.

THANK YOU FOR YOUR SUPPORT!! We will post developments to this blog, so stay tuned!

Sample Letter text:

Dear Commissioners:

I understand that on December 10th the Commission will consider approval of a rule prohibiting the harvest of lemon sharks in Florida's state waters. I am strongly in favor of this proposal and urge you to please vote to protect the lemon sharks from all commercial and recreational harvest.

Lemon Sharks and the other Large Coastal Shark species are vital to Florida's precious ocean ecosystem, and allowing their numbers to be depleted will result in degradation of our reefs and fewer fish for all of us to enjoy. The Lemon Shark aggregations off the coast of Florida have also become a very valuable tourist attraction and are the subject of scientific research.

I am also in favor of other shark protections that have been proposed, including:

* prohibtion of the harvest of sandbar, silky and Caribbean sharpnose sharks from state waters;
* prohibition of the removal of shark heads and tails at sea;
* allowing only hook and line gear to harvest sharks

Thank you for making Florida a leader in the conservation sharks and our marine ecosytems!

City, State