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Lawmakers take aim at shark fin trade

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TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – A bill that would increase penalties for possessing "separated" shark fins in Florida waters cleared the House Careers & Competition Subcommittee on Tuesday.

Under the measure (HB 823), first-time violators would be subject to second-degree misdemeanor charges, $4,500 fines and six-month license suspensions for possessing separated shark fins.

Current law, which places a limit of two sharks per boat and requires captured sharks be kept in a "whole" condition while on the water, carries a $500 fine.

Rep. Joe Gruters, a Sarasota Republican who is sponsoring the legislation along with Rep. Alex Miller, R-Sarasota, said the proposed higher fine is aimed at discouraging the harvesting of sharks for their fins, which can be used in soup popular in Asian cultures.

"It is a cruel and inhumane practice of cutting off shark fins while out at sea, leaving the sharks to drown or starve to death," Gruters said. "And the practice is having an unsustainable impact on the shark population in every ocean on the globe."

The Senate Environment and Natural Resources Appropriations Subcommittee on Wednesday is scheduled to take up a similar bill (SB 884), sponsored by Sen. Travis Hutson, R-Elkton.