Earth Day

Today is Earth Day.

There are dozens, if not hundreds, of issues one could pick to talk about in regards to conservation. I would like to draw attention to one I feel strongly about, shark fishing. Sharks are vastly overfished for their fins (to make shark fin soup.) The process is as horrific as it is simple, sharks are fished in very large numbers, their fins are cut off and they are tossed back (alive) into the ocean where they die by drowning (most sharks need to swim to ‘breathe’.) We also need to dispel the notion that a good shark is a dead shark, this is simply not the case, I have swum with sharks on many occasions and have never felt threatened by them even when they bumped into me (*).

This issue is pithy because the Shark Conservation Act of 2008 was recently introduced to Congress. Jim Toomey (who authors the Sherman’s Lagoon comic strip) explains why this is important:

April could turn out to be a pivotal month for shark conservation here in the U.S. Just a few days ago, the Shark Conservation Act of 2008 was introduced to our Congress. There are also lots of other activities this week and month that could go a long way toward much needed shark fishing regulations both here and in international waters. But before the political will must come the public interest. So, this week, it’s my goal to demonstrate to policy makers in Washington that public interest in shark conservation is quite strong, and the old notion that “the only good shark is a dead shark” is not a concept the public embraces anymore.

This Sunday, April 20, I have devoted my color Sunday “Sherman’s Lagoon” comic strip to creating awareness and public interest in saving sharks from extinction. Recent population studies done by numerous independent marine biologists confirm that many species of large sharks – from great whites to hammerheads to tiger sharks – are being overfished to the point that only 5% of their historic populations remain. This fall, international shark catch limits are going to be reevaluated by scientists, and the US National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) is going to establish much more stringent catch limits in US waters. The US regulations could set an international precedent, which is badly needed, since most of the overfishing is now happening in unregulated international waters. Having gained adequate limits in the US, the NMFS will have an opportunity – and the clout – to propose and fight for the first international catch limits for sharks in a key international meeting coming up this November.

We have a chance to show the NMFS that the public does indeed care about sharks – that they aren’t considered pests but a vital part of nature. When the Sunday April 20 cartoon gets published in your local paper, or here on this website, you will have an opportunity to participate in this public awareness effort. Dr. James Balsiger, director of NMFS, who will be the recipient of all of your mail-in cartoons, is aware of this campaign and is actually looking forward to a heavy response as a way to point out to the fishing communities and regulatory bodies that this is an issue the the public cares about. Please help him make that point, which could go a long way toward creating much-needed regulations, not only in US waters but around the world.


Jim Toomey

It could not be simpler, go to this page, print the image, draw your favorite shark on it and mail it to the address listed. I put mine in the mail yesterday.

(*) Interestingly more people are killed every year in the USA by pigs than by sharks. One would be forgiven thinking otherwise given the media coverage generated when the latter happens.