Jefferson

The title has a double meaning. For one, it’s the Morse code call for emergency assistance. The other might have kept you from reading this. But I’m glad you’re still here. 

Sharks are probably not your favorite critter. They’re not real cuddly. But baby sharks I’ve caught in seines were kinda cute. Like little kittens, though, they mature less lovable than when they were young. 

But there’s something detestable going on that you need to know about – something not even a man-eating fish should have to endure. But first, let me tell you I share your disdain for getting attacked and dragged under water to become a predator’s dinner.

But when you step into the surf, though, you become part of the food chain, like it or not. Sharks don’t see you as Democrats or Republicans; they see you as a potential meal. There’s no hatred involved. They just want to eat. That’s why I don’t wade out as deep into the surf or bays as I used to. A big hammerhead shark scarred me scatless once when I waded too far from shore while fishing, and I appreciate the second chance at life by staying closer to the beach, nowadays.

Shark fins are highly favored in Asian markets. Shark fin soup is a popular item, and it’s been said to even be a status symbol among the wealthy.  And that fondness has crossed the seas.  

Sport fishing for sharks in Texas waters is legal but there is one-fish limit on shark fishing. Sale of shark FINS, though, is illegal, resulting in fines up to $2,000 or 180 days in jail. Why is sale of fins such a severe offense?

Because many sharks are caught, their fins cut off, and their bodies thrown back into the sea. Some estimates go as high as 70 million sharks/year being killed just for their fins. And shark populations are declining. A shark without its fins is like a fish out of water. It won’t be able to swim and slowly drowns. That’s beyond disgustingly inhumane. 

Several years ago, I accompanied Capt. Billy Sandifer on a day-long jaunt down the length of Padre Island National Seashore. Returning up the island that afternoon, Sandifer noticed something and suddenly stopped. What he saw was the carcasses of four dead bull sharks. All their fins had been amputated. He became livid. As mad as anyone I’d ever seen. 

To Billy Sandifer, that was an atrocity. Understand that Billy was a highly decorated Vietnam veteran and a shark fishing guide – one tough hombre. But he respected the sharks and Padre Island. He once freed a large shark entangled in fishing line and assisted it back into the surf, even swimming with it until its gills began functioning properly. Greater love …

Texas Parks and Wildlife game wardens recently charged ten Houston and Dallas restaurants with selling shark fins. 

So S.O.S. could also stands for Save Our Sharks … from getting “finned” and left to die. Slowly. Painfully.

John Jefferson is a lifelong outdoorsman, former regulations coordinator at Texas Parks and Wildlife Dept., past executive director of the Texas Chapter of The Wildlife Society, and author of two books on Texas hunting.

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