A bill recently introduced into Congress by the American fishing industry would make shark dives illegal in the United States. The move appears to be an effort by the industry to suppress rising demands for better shark conservation in the country, which originates mainly through divers.
The initial purpose of the bill, called The Access for Sportfishing Act of 2016, was to prevent national parks from trying to protect fish in waters within state jurisdiction, and in June, Senator Bill Nelson, from Florida, added the ban on shark feeding diving in federal waters. The bill specifies that it is all right to feed sharks for the purpose of killing them, but not if you want to watch the shark. Thus it is the motive for the act of shark feeding, rather than the act itself, that is at issue.
Why would fishing interests oppose shark dives?
Why would fishermen be so concerned about divers bringing small amounts of food in order to enjoy seeing sharks, when the fishing industry dumps so much more, in the way of fishing scraps, into the sea? No correlation between shark dives and shark attacks has ever been found, in spite of decades of shark attack studies and many researchers seeking to find just such a connection.
Further, in many areas, including Florida, shark fishing and baiting go on twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, at well-known piers, while life-guards on the nearby beaches signal to beachgoers that everything is all right. Unknown to swimmers, fishermen are deliberately luring bull sharks and hammerheads into shore. If there was any concern for the safety of beachgoers, why would such practices be permitted, when, in Florida, divers are not permitted to even bring scent, to their dive sites far out to sea?
Such is the extent of misinformation about sharks, that if you ask these people their opinion, you are treated to a shark fantasy right out of Shark Week. If shark dives are allowed, they will shrilly exclaim, those sharks will be coming right out of the water and onto the beach to eat your babies! That such stories are believed, warrants a second look at the situation.
Hatred for sharks
This extreme shark hatred was initially launched by the movie JAWS. Though prior to that, sharks had not been fished for fun and profit—they were considered undesirable, like snakes—fishing charter boats cashed in on the chance for a quick profit, and offered trips to slaughter them. As well as weekend fishing trips, monster tournaments began to be held all along the east coast of the United States, which, season after season, filled the landfills in countless towns and cities with mountains of decaying sharks.
Along America’s east coast, the slaughter of sharks continues to be obscene. According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration of the U.S. Department of Commerce (NOAA), two million, seven hundred thousand sharks were caught by sports fishermen in the U.S.A. in 2011, and this figure is likely low compared with the true numbers killed if the toll from private boats that were not reported, were added in. Though catch and release is described as the solution to this cruel decimation, shark fishing captains have been quoted as saying that the excited and malicious monster hunters fight more than eighty percent of the sharks gut-hooked, so that their fragile internal organs are sliced and torn apart during the fight, and upon their ‘release’ they simply sink.
Since JAWS, Shark Week, an annual week-long shark horror show, has dominated the public attitude to these important marine animals, with the result that decade after decade, the shark hate killings have continued with almost no public outcry nor protest. Fisheries has had a heyday. In Florida, a gem of a state which should have been made a marine park long ago, sharks have been practically fished out. Even baby sharks in nurseries were fished out, and people there will tell you while claiming to be “shark experts” that sharks should be completely eradicated from the oceans.
Why no protection for sharks?
While other countries have passed laws to protect fish from cruel treatment, in America, the fishing industry has discredited the findings that, like all animals, fish feel pain. The result is that most people continue to believe the old fisherman’s tale about them, that you can’t hurt them no matter what you do to them. Indeed, fish and sharks alone, of all animals, are still seen by the public primarily through the eyes of those who think it is fun to brutalize them.
Due to this unscientific bias against them, all of those vitally important inhabitants of the ocean have been condemned to being considered lower and simpler and less feeling than other life forms.
For example, though it is illegal to fight dogs or chickens in Florida, sharks are put in a different category. Fighting sharks is depicted by the fishing industry as a good way for the state to make money, yet there is no scientific reason to protect dogs and chickens, but not sharks, from unnecessary pain and suffering for the pleasure of “sportsmen.” Due in a large part to fishing industry propaganda, fishing has not gained the bad reputation given to other methods of hurting animals, and fish and sharks have not been protected from needless suffering by law as reptiles, birds, and mammals have.
The importance of shark dives and divers
In the light of these facts, the current effort to put a stop to shark dives, and prevent shark appreciation by divers is seen as one more illustration of how the fishing industry, as a multi-billion dollar power, is trying to maintain control, not only of the marine animals themselves but also the way they are viewed by the public. Virtually the only voice raised to protect sharks, with the exception of the few shark scientists who are not in the pay of the fishing industry, is that of shark divers. Hence the bill to prevent those people from diving with sharks, and introducing others to the majestic presence of these remarkable animals at a time when more than ever, they need protection and voices speaking out on their behalf.
The status of sharks and their relatives is considered to be worse than any other vertebrate lineage. The latest global studies indicate that the numbers of sharks killed each year are not falling, no sharks have been saved, and the ravenous market for the infamous shark fin party soup, continues to climb, in spite of the increase in support for shark protection that has come in the last decade.
According to the International Union for Conservation of Natureʼs (IUCN) Shark Specialist Group (SSG), one-quarter of all known species of sharks and rays are threatened with extinction, and the main threat to them is fisheries. Rampant over-fishing and habitat degradation have greatly altered the ecosystems of the ocean, resulting in a “chronic accumulation of global marine extinction risk.” Catches are believed to be three or four times greater than reported. Most catches of sharks and rays are not regulated, are neither recorded nor reported, and are discarded at sea.
The practice of finning for shark fin soup poses the greatest danger to sharks, and the United States is the sixth-worst shark finning country in the world. Given these latest findings by a global network of researchers, the fishing industry, and fisheries “science” has been found to have failed in every sense of the word, in terms of keeping marine ecosystems in a state of health for future generations.
If you go underwater you find an intricate multi-species community in a state of continual communication of some sort. They are warning of danger, alarmed by passing ships, frightened by explosions, and disturbed by countless pernicious events, including the destruction of their environment, and assaults through hooks in the food and plastics and poisons in the water. When you get to know them you see the stress they are under, and the caution with which they approach anything new.
It is time for the public to reconsider the lenience with which fisheries has been permitted to destroy the marine environment and begin to demand that marine animals are treated as the ecologically significant and valuable animals they are.
A petition has been started with the goal of defeating the anti-shark diving bill HERE.
You can also help by writing to the authors of the bill, asking them to remove the anti-shark diving language at:
Senator Bill Nelson
716 Senate Hart Office Building
Washington, DC 20510
Senator Marco Rubio
284 Russell Senate Office Building
Washington DC, 20510
Please write also to your Representative and Senator, if you are an American citizen.
Ila France Porcher
Author of The Shark Sessions