Saving The Sharks That Bit Us

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A new guest post from shark advocate and shark attack victim Debbie Salamone of the Pew Campaign to End Overfishing in the Southeast:

My fellow shark attack victims and I are celebrating today because

the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee voted to strengthen the nation’s shark

finning ban. This action gets us one step closer to full Senate passage

of the Shark Conservation Act of 2009. 

The committee voted unanimously to pass the Act, which

closes loopholes that allowed finning – a process where fishermen slice

off a shark’s fins and dump the animal, sometimes still alive, back in

the water. This practice leaves the sharks to drown or bleed to death. Up to 73

million sharks are killed annually for their lucrative fins, which can fetch up

to $300 per pound mostly in Asian markets as a soup ingredient.

Last July, I gathered a group of shark attack victims to

join with the Pew Environment Group – where I work – to push for

the legislation, sponsored by Sen. John Kerry,

D-Mass. The full Senate still must approve the measure. The House

version, introduced by Rep. Madeline Bordallo,

D-Guam, passed unanimously in March. We hope this Act will finally

become law by next month and give the United States

credibility to persuade other nations and international fishery managers to

follow suit.

People wonder why shark attack victims would push for such

protections. In 2004, a shark severed my Achilles tendon while I was wading off

Florida’s east coast. Luckily, I recovered, but some of my friends lost

limbs and suffered severe disfigurements. Krishna Thompson, a New York banker,

and Al Brenneka, head of the Shark Attack Survivors support group, nearly died

and lost a leg and arm, respectively. Mike Coots, of Hawaii, has returned to

the water and surfs with a prosthetic leg. We all chose to see our attackers

not as vicious killing machines but as vital members of the marine ecosystem.

We just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. So we looked beyond

our own personal losses and realized we are in a unique position to be

advocates for sharks.

As part of Pew’s global shark conservation campaign (www.pewsharks.org), nine of us traveled to

Washington, D.C. to lobby our Senators to back shark finning legislation. We

successfully persuaded many Senators to support our efforts and to date the

Senate bill has about 20 co-sponsors. 

My friends and I are going to continue our work to save

sharks here and globally. More than one third of the

world’s shark species are threatened or near threatened with

extinction.  Some populations, such as scalloped hammerheads and dusky

sharks along the eastern U.S. coast, have plummeted by as much as 80 percent

since the 1970s. Domestic protections alone will not save sharks. We need

increased shark protections at the international level.

Let’s not lose these apex predators as they are a

vital part of a healthy ocean. We need to save these icons. If a group of shark

attack victims can believe in that goal, can’t everyone? 

 

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