Fri, Jul 17, 2009 - Page 7 News List

Shark victims speak out in defense of their attackers

AP , WASHINGTON

Nearly a dozen shark-attack victims — many of them badly scarred or missing limbs — pressed the US Congress on Wednesday to protect a sea creature they’d rather not run into again.

The group wants to strengthen laws protecting sharks from “finning,” in which fins are sliced from sharks for their meat, leaving the fish for dead. The growing market for fin meat, a popular soup delicacy in Asia, threatens many shark species around the world, they say.

“We bring pretty instant credibility,” said Chuck Anderson, a school athletic director who spent 13 days in intensive care and lost most of his right arm after being attacked by a bull shark in 2000 while swimming off Gulf Shores, Alabama. “I’ve yet to run into anyone who disagrees with us.”

Anderson and other attack victims wore white T-shirts reading “Shark Attack Survivors for Shark Conservation” as they met with senators and staffers. The lobbying blitz was organized by the Pew Environment Group to pass a bill strengthening language in an existing ban on finning in US waters.

The measure, which supporters say would close loopholes and allow for stronger enforcement, easily passed the House by voice vote in March and has been introduced in the Senate by Senator John Kerry, a Democrat. Among other things, it would prohibit sea vessels from carrying illegal fins whether they fished them or not, and it would allow the US to call attention to other nations that are not following through with finning bans.

Anderson and Al Brenneka, who lost his right arm to a 2.1m lemon shark while surfing off Delray Beach, Florida in 1976, said their attacks prompted them to learn more about sharks and, ultimately, to believe that humans are a far greater threat to them than they are to people.

Shark attacks are extremely rare. There were 59 worldwide last year, four of them fatal, said George Burgess, a leading shark expert who directs the International Shark Attack File at the University of Florida’s Museum of Natural History.

Meanwhile, a study released last month by the International Union for Conservation of Nature found that roughly a third of all sharks worldwide are in danger of extinction. The threatened species include hammerheads, the great white and mako sharks.

The organization said sharks killed at sea are often used only for their fin meat or are incidental bycatch as fishermen seek tuna and swordfish.

Finning has been banned in most international waters, but advocacy groups say the rules are poorly enforced.

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