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!