“Oh the shark, babe, has such teeth dear, & he shows them pearly white…”
LONG ISLAND, New York––New York state governor Andrew Cuomo, and his brother, CNN New Day morning news anchor Chris Cuomo, on August 28, 2016 put killing sharks at the top of the news the next morning by tweeting to the world two photos of themselves and friends standing beside a newly killed thresher shark.
Hung from a marina gantry crane, the dead shark was apparently meant to be a billboard for shark fishing in New York waters.
“Today’s catch: A 154.5-lb [70kg] Thresher shark off the south shore of Long Island,” tweeted both Andrew Cuomo and his chief of staff, Melissa De Rossa, in separate but identical messages.
“Clear lack of judgement”
The image instead became a billboard for shark conservation after many viewers responded with outrage, including oceanic health advocate, maritime lawyer, and long-distance swimmer Lewis Pugh, who swam across the open waters now surrounding the North Pole in 2007 and in 2010 swam across a glacial lake on Mount Everest to publicize global warming.
“Apex predators such as sharks are crucial for the ocean ecosystems,” Pugh told media. “For a public figure to kill such an animal and then boast about it is dangerously irresponsible. This shows a clear lack of judgment and calls to question his [Andrew Cuomo’s] capability as a public leader.”
“Terrible example to the world”
Agreed John Hourston, founder of the Blue Planet Society, “How Governor Andrew Cuomo has reached high office seemingly unaware of the crisis facing some of the world’s shark populations is beyond me. To blithely post a picture of himself on social media grinning next to a threatened animal killed by his own hands shows an almost unfathomable lack of judgment for a public servant, and sets a terrible example to the world.”
“Edible game fish”
Responded Cuomo’s office, “This is an edible game fish that is indigenous to New York waters and catching them is allowable under both state and federal regulations.”
The New York State Department of Environmental Conservation allows saltwater fishers to kill one shark of at least 54 inches in length per day voyage.
The waters surrounding Long Island are at the northern end of the northeastern seaboard region called by Oliver Milman and Karl Mathiesen of The Guardian “The spiritual home of ‘monster fishing’ ”
The term was “coined in the 1950s,” Milman and Mathiesen said, “by Montauk legend Frank Mundus, thought to be the inspiration for Quint, the monomaniacal shark hunter in Jaws,” a 1974 best-selling novel by Peter Benchley and a 1975 classic film directed by Stephen Spielberg.
“Many of the competitions support charities,” Milman and Mathiesen observed, “and some have been running for decades.
“This year,” Milman and Mathiesen said, “there are 71 registered tournaments along the Atlantic coast in which large pelagic sharks can be caught. Twenty-eight [of the tournaments] target sharks exclusively.”
North of Chesapeake Bay the shark killing contests focus on porbeagle, short fin mako, blue sharks, and thresher sharks, typically caught with rod and reel. Around Chesapeake Bay the focus is on cownose rays, often shot with crossbows as they glide in shallow water or leap and glide just above the waves.
Efforts have been made to clean up the image of shark fishing generally, and of the killing contests in specific.
“The quest to haul in giant sharks used to be a free-for-all,” Milman and Mathiesen wrote, “with those who took part in the 1970s recalling thousands of rotting carcasses laid out in the parking lots.”
Today, said Milman and Mathiesen, “The use of harpoons or the cutting off and parading of shark heads is banned.”
But while the National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration reported in 2015 that none of the legally hunted shark species are at risk of extinction within the next 30 years, albeit that they are “overfished,” the International Union for Conservation of Nature considers porbeagles in the northwest Atlantic to be endangered. The IUCN considers common thresher and shortfin mako to be “vulnerable.”
Cownose rays came to be targeted with particular venom after studies led by Julia Baum of Dalhousie University in Halifax, published in the prestigious journal Science, in both 2003 and 2007 blamed overfishing of larger sharks for the decline of the Chesapeake Bay scallop and oyster industries.
“With fewer sharks around, the species they prey upon — like cownose rays — have increased in numbers, and in turn, hordes of cownose rays dining on bay scallops have wiped the scallops out,” Baum alleged.
“Veal of the Chesapeake”
The Virginia Marine Products Board then “endorsed the creation of a ray fishery and promoted the majestic, hawk-like sea creature as the ‘veal of the Chesapeake,’” recalled Rona Kobell of Bay Journal in February 2016.
“In Maryland,” Kobell continued, “local outdoorsmen organized tournaments where fishermen would shoot and kill hundreds of rays and win prizes for the animals based on weight.”
Anti-ray claims “overstated”
Subsequently, Robert Fisher of the Virginia Institute of Marine Science found from examining the contents of rays’ stomachs that while they eat oysters, shellfish are not their main food source.
Dean Grubbs of Florida State University then re-examined Baum’s data, concluding that she had “over-stated both the decline in big sharks and the ability of cownose rays to reproduce enough to devastate shellfish populations,” Kobel summarized.
“Killing cownose rays had been an under-the-radar activity,” Kobell added, until Showing Animals Respect & Kindness (SHARK) and Fish Feel produced video of killing contest participants shooting rays and clubbing them to death, then discarding the remains of those deemed too small to be likely to help them win a prize.
“The video prompted both Virginia and Maryland, as well as the Chesapeake Bay Program, to review the way they manage the ray population in the Chesapeake,” Kobell wrote.
Ray-killing contests cancelled, moved
This year a ray-killing contest scheduled for June 11, 2016 “was cancelled because of sponsorship problems,” SHARK and Fish Feel said in a media statement, while another proceeded on June 26, 2016 only after it “lost two venues where organizers had hoped to hold it.”
Again SHARK and Fish Feel videotaped the killing.
“Ban this animal abuse”
“We will continue exposing the brutal and ecologically reckless killing,” pledged Fish Feel founder and president Mary Finelli, “but what is really needed is for the government to step up and give the rays the protection they desperately need, and the public wants them to have, by banning this animal abuse.
“There were photos posted on the American Bowhunter’s Facebook page,” Finelli told ANIMALS 24-7, “but they quickly took the more graphic ones down. Plainly, they don’t want the public to see what they do.”
Agreed SHARK founder and president Steve Hindi, who has frequently videotaped and exposed pigeon shoots, prairie dog shoots, deer culls, bullfights, and rodeos for more than 25 years, “These killing contests are some of the most depraved acts of animal cruelty we have ever witnessed. They must be banned.”
Recreational hunters killed 226,000 large sharks in U.S. waters in 2014, according to National Oceanic & Atmospheric Administration data, plus an unknown number of rays and smaller sharks.
This is believed to have exceeded the commercial toll on sharks in U.S. waters, but the estimated 400 licensed commercial shark fishers landed about 600 metric tons of shark carcesses in 2014, selling $2.5 million a year worth of shark fins, meat, and leather.
In addition, U.S. restauranteurs and specialty fish markets between 2000 and 2011 imported an annual average of 36 tons of dried shark fins.
This, Humane Society Legislative Fund president Mike Markarian alleged in June 2016, encourages “finning,” the practice of cutting the fins off of sharks and throwing the rest of the remains overboard. “With their fins cut off, sharks cannot swim, and die from shock, blood loss, starvation, or predation by other fish,” Markarian explained.
“Although the act of shark finning is prohibited in U.S. waters, the market for fins incentivizes finning in countries that have lax finning laws and fishing regulations,” Markarian said, urging passage of a Shark Fin Trade Elimination Act promoted by a coalition including the Humane Society of the U.S., the Humane Society Legislative Fund, SeaWorld, the Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation, and Oceana.
“We are also urging the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to finalize a long-overdue rule to implement the Shark Conservation Act of 2010,” Markarian said. “The law prohibits any person from removing the fins of a shark at sea, possessing detached fins on board a fishing vessel, transferring detached fins between vessels at sea, or landing a shark without the fins naturally attached anywhere along the U.S. coastline. The legislation was enacted more than five years ago, and the rule to implement the act’s domestic provisions was proposed three years ago. There is no reason that the agency should delay the implementation of this rule any longer.”
Finning dogfish allowed
Instead, the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission on August 2, 2016 approved a new rule that “allows fishermen to bring smooth dogfish to land with fins removed, as long as their total retained catch is at least 25 percent smooth dogfish,” explained Patrick Whittle of Associated Press.
“Right now,” Whittle added, “they can bring ashore as many as they choose,” so the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission was able to tout the new rule as an anti-finning measure, even though it amounts to very little.
California law upheld
Of much greater substance, the U.S. Supreme Court on May 23, 2016 rejected without comment a challenge to a 2013 California ban on the possession and sale of shark fins.
San Francisco Bay area “suppliers and sellers of shark fin soup, a traditional dish in the Chinese American community,” contended that the ban was discriminatory, reported Bob Egelko of the San Francisco Chronicle, even though the author of the California legislation, state assembly member Paul Fong, is himself of Chinese ancestry.
Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals
In July 2015 the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, located in San Francisco, ruled in a 2-1 verdict that “The purpose of the shark fin law is to conserve state resources, prevent animal cruelty, and protect wildlife and public health.”
Recalled Egelko, “The Obama administration,” defending federal authority to regulate oceanic fishing, “at first supported opponents of the state law, filing arguments in 2013 that disputed California’s authority to restrict the sale of sharks who had been legally caught in federal waters. But it later changed its position after discussions with state fish and wildlife officials and said the [applicable state and federal] laws could be harmonized, with federal rules governing shark fishing while California regulated commerce within the state.”
[Oliver Milman and Karl Mathiesen of The Guardian identified as “The full list of corporations involved in Atlantic shark hunting tournaments that are not catch and release-only,” a roster including Academy Sports, Aon, Astoria Bank, BASF, Budweiser, Boat US (Berkshire Hathaway), Captain Morgan, Caterpillar, Coca-Cola, Coors Lite, Cummins, Dow, Ferrari, Ford, Garmin, Globalstar, Goslings Rum, Hertz, Home Depot, Intercontinental Real Estate Corporation, Lexus, Maserati, Merrill Lynch (Bank of America), Miller Lite, Milwaukee Tool Corporation, Nissan, Olin, Phillips 66, RBC Wealth Management, Samuel Adams, Unity International Group, Veolia, The Wahlrich Group, West Marine, and Yamaha.]