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The journey to making Massachusetts shark fin free began in 2012 when two Shark Angels, Alayne Chappell and Carol “Sammy” Samarov, came together to build Fin Free Massachusetts. From there, they formed a broad coalition of ocean and animal advocacy groups, including The Humane Society, MSPCA-Angell, New England Aquarium, Shark Angels, Oceana, Women Working for Oceans, and several invaluable others. Together, with legislative sponsor, Senator Jason Lewis, they filed a bill to ban the sale, trade, and possession of shark fins in the summer of 2013.
One year--and a lot hard work--later, H.4088 was signed into law by Governor Deval Patrick. Governor Patrick joined supporters and champions of the bill at the New England Aquarium on July 24 for a celebratory bill signing to usher in this step forward in ocean conservation for Massachusetts.
“Navigating the legislative process can be daunting. Every step of the way--from filing the bill to clearing the Senate--was carefully thought out through a channel of knowledgable and experienced conservationists. The success of the campaign to ban shark fins in Massachusetts was multi-fold, but much of it can attributed to a well-conceived and well-executed communications strategy.”
"With the passing of this law Massachusetts builds upon its long history of animal protection and environmental stewardship," said Governor Patrick in an article in the Boston Globe. "I congratulate the passionate animal welfare and ocean conservation leaders who worked together to ensure the conservation of sharks and our oceans for generations to come."
H.4088 passed through both chambers unanimously, with bipartisan support and sponsorship across the State House. In addition to the hard work put in from Sen. Lewis’s office, Representative David Nagle was a major champion of the bill. A young constituent and shark lover, Sean Lesniak, came to Rep. Nangle around the same time H.4088 was filed, to submit his own bill. Sean knew he wanted to take action to save sharks, and he did. It was a happy coincidence that both efforts coincided, and Sean began to help with the passing of the Coalition’s bill to ban the sale of shark fins.
Navigating the legislative process can be daunting. Every step of the way--from filing the bill to clearing the Senate--was carefully thought out through a channel of knowledgable and experienced conservationists. In addition to work in the State House, reaching out to the local fishing industry was an important step and ensured some confidence in moving forward. In this effort, it was important to work with, not against, New England fisheries representatives. The Coalition also connected with individuals in Asian communities, where shark fin soup is most frequently served, to initiate lines of communication. The success of the campaign to ban shark fins in Massachusetts was multi-fold, but much of it can attributed to a well-conceived and well-executed communications strategy.
Another challenge in working toward a shark fin ban is the potential for confusion around what a shark fin ban does. While shark finning is currently prohibited by both federal and regional law, the U.S. market for fins, including in Massachusetts, continues to fuel the practice in foreign waters and on the high seas. By decreasing the supply in the marketplace, a shark fin ban will help to curb the demand, and thus reduce the incentive to shark fin or fish for endangered sharks whose fins fetch high prices. State shark fin bans ensure no fins from threatened or endangered shark species caught from overseas fisheries will be sold in stores or restaurants in that state. Each of the now-nine states that have taken action to ban shark fins have, together, made a dent in the global shark fin trade and generated significant awareness of issues facing sharks.
Now that H.4088 is passed and effective immediately, the Coalition will begin work on enforcement. The first step will be to notify all stores and restaurants serving shark fin in Massachusetts. After a reasonable amount of time has passed to allow disposal of any existing shark fins, restaurant and store owners will be penalized by imprisonment or a fine of anywhere from $500 to $1,000 per shark fin deemed in violation of the law, or a combination of both. All known shark fin servers will be periodically audited, whether this is by the authorities or the Shark Angels of Massachusetts, they can be sure someone will be checking, and enforcing. Read the bill text
“Shark fin bans are the best tool we have to address shark finning on the high seas and the trade of engandered species. Without an effective way to track shark fins in the global trade, or enforce international fishing laws, the only way we can cease contributing to the industry is to close our markets. If every U.S. state and other countries contributing to the trade close their markets, we can significantly reduce the incentive to fin or to overfish sharks just for fins. There are many facets to ocean and shark conservation--shark fin bans are not going to save sharks on their own--but they are an important peice of the puzzle.”
In 2012, a study conducted by Stony Brook University’s Institute for Ocean Conservation Science revealed that 33 different species of sharks turned up in samples collected in 14 U.S. cities. DNA testing showed that fins of engangered scalloped hammerhead sharks were among the species found in Boston. Massachusetts residents can now rest easy knowing they are standing up against shark finning, and against the trade and sale of endangered sharks.
Written by Alayne Chappell, Fin Free Massachusetts Coordinator
Hi, My name is Alexi and I am 13 years old, in 7th grade, at Myrtle Grove Middle School in Wilmington, NC. I recently finished a school project called the problem/solution project … I was to research a problem in the world that could be anything from the environment, to cancer, to child abuse, etc. It had to be a problem that we were passionate about. I decided to do my project on the Misconceptions of Sharks and Shark Finning. Living on the coast of North Carolina, my whole family surfs...a lot! We have seen many sharks out here and every time I saw one it had always scared the heck out of me! I wanted to learn more about sharks so that way I wouldn't be scared of them when I went in the water. In the beginning I was planning on doing the project with four of my other friends, but they decided they weren't that interested anymore. I was torn because I wanted to do the project with them but I also had this gut feeling about doing my project on sharks. In the end I chose to stick with my idea and do it myself!
We started this project in early September and it lasted until about late May. We first had to research our problem and then write a research paper on it. After that was done we had to figure out how we would help our problem. I had no idea what to do because all I thought was, how am I supposed to help sharks if the finning doesn't even mostly happen here?! I finally chose to help raise awareness about sharks by teaching a lesson in my younger brothers 5th grade class.
I first showed them a clip from Finding Nemo and created a PowerPoint which taught them all about sharks and common misconceptions. After I was done teaching, they created shark hats. The whole class loved it and they were really interested in all the facts and statistics I had taught them! Once we had completed both our problem and solution, we had to create a trifold board that showed all that we had done and finally, presented it to our school. There were over 150 students, many parents and grandparents, college professors, and people from our local newspaper. Everyone had to judge whose board they thought was best and which one they were most interested in. Out of all 30+ students in the class my project won! The winner of this project was given 50 dollars to donate towards their cause! I chose to donate the money I earned to your organization! So be on the lookout for a check from Myrtle Grove Middle School, I'm not sure when it will be there but it is on it's way! I also wanted to let you know that even though my project is over I still hope to help raise more awareness about sharks. I realized that no matter how small I am I can make a big difference in my community if I put my mind to it!
During the weekend of May 3-4, Shark Angels were in Tampa, Fla., for Shark Con, an event aimed at raising awareness for shark conservation. The weekend-long event consisted of various booths and exhibitions from groups nationwide and a wide range of speakers, of which Shark Angels’ own Julie Andersen was a part of, speaking that Saturday.
By Chase Martin
As part of the Shark Cherubs program, the Shark Angels have been increasing their conservation education goals by talking about sharks with students through classroom visits. But while in-person visits are a common outreach practice, the Angels’ educational outreach reached a new level when Jamie began using Skype in the Classroom. No longer limited to only local schools, the Shark Angels are now able to bring shark conservation into classrooms across the country. So far, Shark Angel Jamie has spoken to audiences in Texas, Ohio, New Mexico and Pennsylvania, and have even crossed the northern border to talk about sharks with students in Canada.
Having the Shark Angels use Skype in the Classroom is a great learning experience for kids, especially those who may not be able to see sharks in the wild or wouldn’t normally hear of shark conservation issues because of where they live. Additionally, the teachers love it, because they get to see their students actively engaged in something that these kids are interested in. Jamie’s discussions with these kids don’t end once the Skype session is over, however. After Skyping with students in Texas, for example, the kids wrote letters to their congressman, thanking him for taking action against shark finning and encouraging him to continue to fight for the sharks they love.
While Shark Angels mainly speak to students between the ages of 9 and 12, their outreach is not limited to a particular age. Jamie spoke with high school students, those distracted individuals who seem to be the hardest to reach. While they were definitely a different crowd than what she is used to, Jamie kept their attention, as the teacher noted they weren’t on their phones during the talk and they keenly paid attention. Despite their silence and typical emotionless expressions, the high school students were able to take away the same ideas as elementary school kids; the plight of sharks around the world, and the need for shark conservation.
The Shark Angels recognize the need for conservationists of all ages, as every person they reach out to is another individual who can be moved to take action and advocate for sharks. In the coming months, the Angels plan to visit many more classrooms through Skype; educating students about sharks and acting as a guide for the role these individuals can play in their conservation. These students are interested, as Jamie sees on their faces when she informs them about shark finning and other issues, and by the number of hands raised for questions.
Of course, Jamie answers numerous inquiries from the students she talks to. They ask to learn more about the dangers humans pose to sharks, and how they personally can help protect these animals. But the best question Jamie has ever gotten from a student?
One from a young boy, who asked, “Do sharks have birthdays?”
And her answer: Yes, of course.
by Chase Martin
When not reaching out to distant classrooms through Skype, the Shark Angels enjoy visiting local schools, where their shark discussions are more personal and interactive. Last November, Jamie visited a school in Amagansett, N.Y., where she talked to four different classes.
For each class, Jamie started by introducing herself and the ideas and goals behind Shark Angels. She then asked the kids questions related to sharks, including which ones they have seen in the wild and who is scared of sharks. This allowed for a transition discussion about how sharks are misunderstood, and the reality behind their nature and vital niche in the environment. She informed the students on basic shark biology, some interesting facts and the plight sharks are facing due to shark finning and commercial fishing. Though young, these kids learned valuable key terms, including fishery, bycatch and overfishing,
While very informative, Jamie likes to keep her visits fun and interactive. She brings props like fossilized shark teeth and shark puppets to better explain their biology and feeding habits, and uses PowerPoint presentations and videos to complement her discussion. Some of the presentation slides bring other interactive elements with multiple choice and true/false questions, which are both fun and informative for the kids. At the end of each presentation, there is a question and answer session, and Jamie normally sees great reactions from the excited kids, who want to talk all about their favorite sharks and which ones they have seen in the wild.
With the teachers help, Jamie suggested that the kids write to Governor Cuomo of New York, in order to thank him for signing the shark fin bill and making it a law. After sending the handwritten letters to the governor, Jamie received a response, in which Cuomo thanked the Shark Angels and the students for their interest in advocacy and government participation.
The students that the Angels are able to visit in person really enjoy the opportunity to hear about sharks and learn that they themselves can help with shark conservation. As we know, these kids are the next generation to hold the fate of the planet in their hands. With visits, both personal and digital, by the Shark Angels, hopefully we can inspire them to seek change, one classroom at a time.
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