Value of Keeping Sharks Alive


How much is a shark worth? That might sound like a strange question. To conservationists, biologists (like Ocean Ramsey) or people who love the ocean, it might be impossible to quantify the value of such a magnificent creature. For fishers around the world, the answer is probably more straightforward. But one thing is now clear: sharks are worth much more alive than dead in the state of Florida.

A new, independent report commissioned by Oceana found that live sharks provide significant economic benefits to the state of Florida. Divers and tourists travel from around the world to see sharks in person, supporting a tourism industry that depends on healthy animals.

Given the global threats to survival of sharks and the key roles they play both in nature and in some coastal economies, the report commissioned by Oceana, and research by others, highlights the need for Congress to pass the proposed Shark Fin Sales Elimination Act to enact a nationwide ban on the trade of shark fins.

The bill, introduced by Reps. Ed Royce (R-Calif.) and Gregorio Sablan (I-MP), would remove the United States from the global shark fin market, which is driven primarily by the demand for shark fin soup in Asia.

Just like their vital role in maritime ecosystems, sharks live at the center of a financial network that generates both economic revenue and growth. But the potential value of a shark ends abruptly once it has been killed. A creature that could live for decades as a driver of economic growth is instead reduced to the sale price of its meat or fins.

As detailed in the report commissioned by Oceana, shark-driven tourism is booming in the state of Florida. Direct expenditures like boat rentals, food and lodging for shark-encounter dives totaled roughly $220 million and supported over 3,700 jobs in 2016. In contrast, the shark fishery in Florida generated only $960,000 in commercial landings in 2015. In fact, the value of live sharks in Florida significantly overshadowed the value of shark fin exports from the entire United States, which totaled little more than $1 million in 2015. In the long run, sharks can simply generate more revenue when alive and swimming in Florida waters than killed and sold for their fins.

The shark diving industry is popular in other states, including North Carolina and Rhode Island. Operators also work off the coast of California, with shark diving excursions available in San Diego and San Francisco. Ensuring healthy shark populations will help local businesses in these economies as well.

Another recent study conducted in the Bahamas demonstrated similar results: Sharks and rays helped create about 1.3 percent of Bahama’s Gross Domestic Product in 2014. Driven mainly by the shark diving industry, sharks and their relatives generate a total of $113.8 million in revenues each year for the Bahamas. Similarly, Fiji and the Maldives earn $42.2 and $38.6 million per year, respectively, from their shark diving industries.

In addition to their economic value, sharks are essential for healthy oceans. While some are apex predators, all sharks play a crucial part in regulating and maintaining balance in marine ecosystems through their places in the food chain. This role is threatened, however, because sharks are all too easily overfished. Some species are slow-growing and long-lived. They reproduce late in life and have few offspring compared to other fish. These factors make these species prone to overexploitation, and populations can take a long time to recover once they’ve declined.

A major threat to sharks comes from the demand for shark fins, which creates an incentive for shark finning – a brutal practice where a shark’s fins are cut off and its body discarded at sea, where it can drown, bleed to death or be eaten alive by other fish. Fins from as many as 73 million sharks end up in the global shark fin trade every year. And though the act of shark finning is illegal in U.S. waters, shark fins continue to be bought and sold in many parts of the United States.

Eleven U.S. states, plus the Northern Mariana Islands, American Samoa and Guam, have already banned the sale or trade of most shark fins. But when these products are banned in one state, the market simply shifts to a new location.

In 2013, for instance, no shark fins were exported out of Savannah, Georgia. But after Texas began cracking down on the trade, the market shifted, and Savannah became the number one U.S. city for shark fin exports. The U.S. also continues to import fins, including from countries with no finning bans in place. In the end, only a national fin ban will stop the buying and selling of shark fin products throughout the U.S.

It may seem crude to ask, “How much is a shark worth?” But the importance of sharks to Florida’s economy demonstrates the tangible impact these animals have in the U.S., making the Shark Fin Sales Elimination Act a necessary step to protect them. Together, we can make the U.S. a global leader in shark conservation and continue to enjoy the economic and environmental value that sharks bring to our seas.

Andrew Sharpless has led Oceana since 2003 as its Chief Executive Officer. Louis Bacon is the Chief Executive Officer of Moore Capital Management and Founder and chairman of The Moore Charitable Foundation.

Co-authored by Louis Bacon, Chief Executive Officer of Moore Capital Management and Founder and chairman of The Moore Charitable Foundation

© Oceana/Jason ArnoldOn March 16, 2016, Oceana went shark tagging off the coast of Miami, Florida with Dr. Austin Gallagher and Beneath the Waves.

Fiji shows off sharks – Hawaii should do the same

PACIFIC HARBOUR, Fiji — As the divers’ air bubbles sashayed to the surface 100 feet above, their eyes focused on the scene emerging in front of them.

A 10-foot female bull shark appeared, almost mirage-like, out of the blue beyond. Another entered, stage left. Then one on the right. And another.

Soon a dozen sharks were in view, some swimming within several feet of scuba spectators lined up to watch along a row of coral and rocky rubble.


Bull sharks are the main attraction at a dive site in Fiji’s first marine national park.

Courtesy: Alana Hong Eagle

A few certified dive masters orchestrated the show. Some hold dual roles as marine biologists and sheriffs of the sea, working to enforce the laws of Fiji’s first marine national park while educating a steady stream of tourists on the importance of shark conservation.

One swam over to a submerged trash can that the dive operator had placed for the show. He pulled out a tuna head and with a flip of his wrist let it float away, its lifeless eyes unblinking.

A 9-foot bull shark cut through a school of smaller fish, devouring it in a couple of bites. A few of the dozen divers who paid to see this world-renowned spectacle emitted muffled squeals of joy through their breathing regulators.

As Ben Saqata of Beqa Adventure Divers explained on the boat ride out to the lagoon for the dive, these apex predators are key to maintaining balanced ecosystems. They keep species down the food chain in check so those animals in turn do not dominate the food sources below them, and so on.

He said he’s seen this no-take zone become a spawning ground for other fish, and there’s been a spillover effect, pleasing local fishermen who ply the waters outside its boundaries.

Sharks are revered by many Fijians but face threats from fishermen who target certain species for their meat or fins. Protecting them has been the reserve’s primary mission, but the benefit has extended far beyond by generating millions of tourism dollars for the local economy.


Ben Saqata of Beqa Adventure Divers is a marine biologist and deputized by the Fijian government to enforce the laws restricting fishing inside the Shark Reef Marine Reserve.

Courtesy: Alana Hong Eagle

Hawaii’s Conservation Efforts

Hawaii officials have been looking to places like Fiji for marine management ideas, given their similarities as remote island chains with economies driven largely by visitors who travel from afar to experience the natural resources.

Gov. David Ige announced in September his commitment for the state to “effectively manage” 30 percent of its nearshore fisheries by 2030. It’s unclear what that will entail, but it has at least set a course.

The plan does not have specific shark provisions and the governor, through his spokeswoman, declined to comment for this report.

Ige has expressed concern about Hawaii’s marine ecosystems in a broader sense at recent environmental conferences, including the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s World Conservation Congress in September, where he raised the issue of climate change and its disproportionate effects on island communities.


Gov. David Ige during a press conference at the IUCN meeting in Honolulu in September.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

A new marine reserve to protect nearshore waters may not be in the state’s future. But officials are looking at the process Fiji went through to establish its park

The idea of incorporating local knowledge, the best available science and traditional practices, as Fiji, the Republic of Palau and other nations have done, is being used to manage smaller areas around Hawaii, said state Department of Land and Natural Resources Director Suzanne Case.

The north shore of Kauai and west side of the Big Island now have so-called community-based subsistence fishing areas. Others are in the works for Maui and Oahu. Each has its own management measures specific to the area, developed by those communities in conjunction with the state.

DLNR spokesman Dan Dennison said the department doesn’t have any internal expertise on sharks and deferred to University of Hawaii scientist Carl Meyer, who did not respond to requests for comment. The state Division of Aquatic Resources also did not respond to a request for comment.


Blacktip reef sharks are one of several species regularly encountered in the Shark Reef Marine Reserve,

Courtesy: Alana Hong Eagle

“I’m sure that Hawaii can learn from anyplace in the world that’s trying new things,” said William Aila, a fisherman, diver and former head of DLNR who now serves as deputy director of the state Department of Hawaiian Home Lands.

“If you take a look at the community-based fisheries management initiatives that are going on around the state, you have sort of this lab of fisheries management that’s coming from the ground up,” he said.

“I know for a fact that those folks are researching everything that’s happened in the past in Hawaii, everything that’s happened in other parts of the world, and that’s being included in their individual assessments of what they’d like to see happen,” Aila said.

‘Conservation Project Running A Dive Shop’

Beqa Adventure Divers, based on the south shore of Fiji’s main island, has been taking customers out to dive the reefs of Viti Levu since 2004 when the Shark Reef Marine Reserve was established.

The reserve, which became a national park in 2014, offers exhilarating sights of several shark species amid plentiful corals and a wide range of fish of all sizes and colors.

The company’s director, Mike Neumann, said its offering a lot more than good diving.

“We’re a conservation project running a dive shop,” he said. “It’s not the other way around.”


A gray shark cruises by during a December dive in the Shark Reef Marine Reserve in Fiji.

Nathan Eagle/Civil Beat

He acknowledges that not everyone supports feeding the sharks. Critics say it changes their natural behavior and can have other consequences, but Neumann pointed at studies showing little to no effect on the shark populations in the reserve. He noted there have been no shark bite incidents during any of the tours.

One study found the contents of their stomachs was less than 1 percent tuna, which is what the dive shop feeds them. Another found less diversity in the sharks going to the site; the bulls were outcompeting the tigers and other species.

“People who feed sharks are called fishermen — not a few dive operators,” Neumann said.

The bigger point, he said, has nothing to do with feeding or not feeding sharks, but instead the reserve’s value as “a proof of the concept that something like this can be done in conservation.”


Ben Saqata, center, a marine biologist with Beqa Adventure Divers, says there’s been a spillover effect from the reserve that helps boost fish populations beyond its boundaries.

Courtesy: Alana Hong Eagle

Beqa Adventure Divers partnered with Fiji’s government and neighboring villages to establish the reserve and now runs the park’s day-to-day operations.

Its employees include marine biologists who conduct shark research that’s been cited in international studies. All the workers are deputized fish wardens who have police powers to enforce laws banning fishing. That makes up for the government’s lack of resources for enforcement — a major issue in any marine protected area, including the massive Papahanaumokuakea Marine National Monument around the Northwestern Hawaiian Islands. 

Customers pay a marine park fee to dive in the reserve. The money goes to the villages in exchange for giving up their right to fish there.

Neumann said their waters have proven more valuable as a protected reserve than a fishing ground. A 2011 study determined shark diving contributed $42.2 million to Fiji’s economy the previous year.


Viti Levu, the main island of Fiji, is receiving a steady stream of international visitors, many of whom are coming to dive with sharks.

Nathan Eagle/Civil Beat

“You can’t protect jaguars if you don’t protect the jungle,” Neumann said.

Shark conservation efforts have increased in recent years in Hawaii but there’s debate in the scientific community over whether Hawaii’s nearshore sharks need further protection.

Unlike in Fiji and other parts of the Pacific, sharks are not targeted in Hawaii for food and the state passed a ban on the trade of shark fins in 2010.

The real threat to sharks in Hawaii comes from their food sources being depleted, be it from commercial and recreational fishermen or habitat loss due to polluted runoff.

Counting The Sharks

Scientist Marc Nadon of the Joint Institute for Marine and Atmospheric Research at the University of Hawaii and his colleagues wrote a paper in 2012 estimating that the number of Pacific reef sharks had plummeted 90 percent in Hawaii.

The study found reef shark populations to be below 10 percent of the level they should be around populated islands, but could not determine the reasons for this depletion. That paper speculated that commercial and recreational fishing and an overall reduction in the amount of fish the sharks eat could explain why.

A follow-up to that study is expected within a few months, which could make its findings more defensible. The original study was criticized by some people because it relied on the observations of divers towed behind boats at a maximum 30 meters’ depth. The follow-up study uses cameras that extend down to 100 meters or more.

“We’re not saying there are no more reef sharks in the Main Hawaiian Islands, they’re still there. We’re talking about abundance,” Nadon said.

“Most people just snorkel around the main eight Hawaiian Islands and that’s their experience of what this is,” he said. “But if you go to remote areas of the Pacific, you almost don’t need the data. You just see it.”

Designating certain waters as protected marine areas would not be enough to stop the decline in reef shark stocks, Nadon said.

“The recent implementation of marine national monuments at most isolated U.S. Pacific islands may substantially increase the probability of persistence of reef shark populations, but effective enforcement and additional fishing regulations elsewhere would also be necessary to slow the decline of these species,” he said.


A 2011 study determined shark diving alone contributed $42.2 million to Fiji’s economy.

Nathan Eagle/Civil Beat

Scientist Kim Holland of the University of Hawaii’s Hawaii Institute of Marine Biology was among those skeptical of the findings that showed reef shark populations at such low levels in Hawaii.

Just because people do not encounter sharks as frequently in Hawaii as they do in places like Fiji does not mean they are not around, he said, noting poorer water visibility as one reason.

“There’s a lot of hidden shark biomass in Hawaiian waters,” Holland said.

He was careful to make the distinction between nearshore sharks, like blacktip reef sharks, and open-ocean sharks, like tiger sharks. The latter category faces significant threats, he said, because they are targeted for their fins and killed as bycatch.

If there has been a depletion in nearshore sharks, Holland said he would agree with Nadon it’s likely due to insufficient food, which would mean that addressing fishing could help.

“One of the real pressures on our reefs is gill nets are still allowed to be used in Hawaiian waters and not in the traditional sense — Polynesians only had so much capacity,” Holland said.

Restricting gill nets would help control fishing pressure on the reefs, he said, which would in turn help maintain healthy shark populations.

“It’s a hard nut to crack though because of the intersection between modern fisheries biology and advocating for traditional harvesting rights,” Holland said. “You get into that whole tension between modern fisheries management and traditional gathering rights.”


Sharks are plentiful in Fiji’s Shark Reef Marine Reserve.

Courtesy: Alana Hong Eagle

That’s a familiar battle in Fiji. Neumann, the shark dive director, said the problem is that the villages there have been fishing the same waters for generations but the fish population did not keep up with the human population.

“You can go anywhere down the coast and there is nothing there,” he said. “But how do you tell subsistence fishermen that they have to manage their resource?”

To Aila, the answer could be in the Hawaiian concept of reciprocity.

“It’s not only about the ‘right’ to fish,” he said. “It’s about, I have a responsibility to fish and in how I conduct myself.”

In order to continue fishing, Aila said, “we have to make sure we give back in terms of management or on a personal level a relationship — cleaning up marine debris or fishing lines.”

Neumann, who has spent time in Hawaii and is close with many in the science and conservation communities here, said he isn’t holding his breath for Hawaii to take strong actions to protect its waters even though the state’s economy and the public’s health depends on it.

“Unless the government gets some balls, it’s not going to happen,” he said. “The question for Hawaii is what kind of ocean do you want to show your tourists?”


You Can Swim With Sharks Here

When it comes to bucket-list adventures, swimming with sharks is near the top for a lot of adrenaline junkies. Many of the adventures on the list require scuba diving, but at some locations, even non-divers with a desire to get up close and personal with the top of the food chain can jump in and face their fears.

Bahamas, Bahamas, and more in the Bahamas!

I don’t want to scare the non-shark lovers away from the beauty of the Bahamas, but there are sharks out there. From least scary to the most, here’s where to get your Bahamian shark fix.

Compass Cay Marina is home to a large number of well-fed, friendly nurse sharks. In case you don’t know it, nurse sharks are more like a giant catfish than a great white. You can walk right into the shallow water near the fish cleaning station and pet these gentle guys.

Stuart Cove’s in Nassau has been doing shark dives safely for decades. Caribbean reef sharks feed on fish-on-a-stick as divers kneel in the sand in awe. Reef sharks are some of the least aggressive species of shark. (Forget about what you saw on Shark Week.)

As your fear subsides and you crave more sharks and more excitement, check out the folks at Jim Abernethy’s Scuba Adventures in Fort Lauderdale. They operate live-aboard dive boats with regularly scheduled shark trips in the Bahamas. Expect to see tigers and hammerheads, as well as the Caribbean reef sharks.


There are several shark species in the Pacific waters surrounding the Hawaiian Islands. Sightings of tigers, hammerheads, blues, and even great whites are not all that uncommon. And while divers can expect to see these guys almost anywhere while diving in Hawaii, the Oahu’s North Shore is the place to be for cage diving. Hawaii Shark Encounters takes shark education seriously and strives to educate customers about the need for shark conservation while providing them with a thrilling swim with sharks inside the safety of a cage. No diving skills are required — just bring your courage.


Scuba diving in Fiji is a definite bucket list adventure for many divers. And the fish many hope to see most is shark. Beqa Adventure Divers can make that happen for you. Sharks are protected in the Shark Reef Marine Reserve, so no worries about questionable practices. This is an uncaged dive, but per the company’s website, it is a carefully managed feed, where participants observe, but do not interact with the sharks.

Guadalupe Island, Mexico

Home to a large population of great whites, the waters off the Mexico’s Baja coast, attract divers willing to brave cold Pacific waters for some time in a cage watching the top fish of the ocean. Nautilus Live Aboards operates six-day adventures from July to November utilizing submersible cages that descend to thirty feet for a better opportunity to observe the sharks. You meet the expedition in San Diego, motor to Ensenada, cruise to Guadalupe, then spend three full days in the cages watching the predators. Non-divers are allowed, as air is supplied by hoses attached to the boat, but a minimum of a Discover Scuba course is recommended.



The best of Fiji?

VoliVoli Beach Resort


This family owned and operated resort offers a choice of twin queen rooms and studio villas, all with ocean views. The Nuku Bar and Restaurant overlooks the swimming pool and offers three meals per day. A variety of body and facial treatments are available from the Daulomani Day Spa. Volivoli Beach Resort is home base for the luxury live-aboard S/Y Fiji Siren. Kiteboarding and sport fishing are available at the resort as well.

Package includes:

  • 7 nights oceanview accommodations
  • 5 days of 2-tank boat dives
  • Daily breakfast
  • Roundtrip airport transfers
  • Hotel tax and service charges
  • Valid for travel April 1, 2016 through December 31, 2016 and January 10, 2017 through March 31, 2017

Price: $1,669
Valid: April 1, 206 through March 31, 2017
Travel must be booked by: March 15, 2017
Booking Email: [email protected]
Booking Telephone: 1-800-329-9989


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