It is now a crime to kill tiger and hammerhead sharks in the waters off Florida. In a unanimous vote following two years of spirited public hearings, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission voted unanimously Wednesday to protect the tiger shark and three species of hammerhead from recreational and commercial anglers.
"Sometimes the appropriate measures of conservation are the problems we avoid, not the problems we have to fix," said Commissioner Brian Yablonski.
The new measures, which take effect Jan. 1, also prohibit the possession, sale and exchange of the sharks in state waters. Fins from hammerhead sharks are among the most valued and used for shark fin soup.
Killing of one of the newly protected sharks is now a second-degree misdemeanor, punishable by up to 60 days in jail and a $500 fine. However, these sharks can still be caught and released in state waters and can be taken in adjacent federal waters.
Florida's state waters, which extend 3 miles off the Atlantic coast and 9 miles off the Gulf Coast, are home to several species of sharks. Tiger and hammerhead sharks use the coastal, state waters as nursery grounds for their pups.
Tiger and hammerhead sharks are especially vulnerable to exploitation, because of their lengthy reproductive cycle. Tiger sharks, which do not begin reproducing until they are at least 10 years old, have a gestation period of 15 months and only reproduce every three years.
"Any small level of exploitation can make a big difference," said Neil Hammerschlag, a researcher at the Rosenstiel School of Marine and Atmospheric Science at the University of Miami. "Recent data shows that even killing a few locally can have a big impact."
Sharks have been strictly regulated in Florida since 1992, with a one-shark-per-person, two-shark-per-vessel daily bag limit for all recreational and commercial harvesters. About two dozen over-fished, vulnerable or rare shark species are designated for catch -and-release only in Florida waters.