PASO ROBLES – A Paso Robles High School science teacher and his former student are riding bicycles across five states through America’s heartland to raise awareness — and money — to end a fishing practice that threatens the ocean’s top predators.
Mark DiMaggio, a teacher and conservationist, and Devon Lambert, a 19-year-old conservation biology major attending UC Davis, call their campaign to end the slaughter of sharks Spinning to End Finning.
Their 1,200-mile trek along the classic TransAmerica Bicycle Trail will take them from Colorado Springs, Colo., to Harrodsburg in western Kentucky between June 16 and July 9. DiMaggio and Lambert plan to give public talks along the route.
Gaylene Ewing, a Paso Robles High School biology teacher, will coordinate efforts for the pair from the team’s home base on the Central Coast of California. Money raised will be donated to Pretoma, an award-winning organization supported by the Monterey Bay Aquarium that works to protect ocean resources and promote sustainable fisheries policies in Costa Rica and Central America, and ARCAE, the Costa Rican Environmental and Educational Network.
“We hope to raise $10,000,” said DiMaggio, 55, of Cambria. “Every dollar raised this summer will go straight to shark conservation.”
Shark finning is a practice where sharks are caught, their fins are cut off, and the living shark is tossed back into the ocean. The shark usually dies from the practice.
The fins are one of the most expensive seafood products in the world, fetching hundreds of dollars per pound. A bowl of shark-fin soup can cost up to $150. Finning is illegal in the United States, but only four states — California, Hawaii, Oregon and Washington — have outlawed the sale of the fins.
“The growing demand for shark fin soup, considered an elite delicacy in Asia, has caused shark finning to occur in epic proportions globally,” DiMaggio said. “Sharks are the most dominant predator in the ocean and have existed there for hundreds of millions of years.
“Now, they are at risk of a total global extinction, with an estimated 100 million sharks killed annually for their fins. If they disappear, the ecology of the oceans will be enormously disrupted and could collapse entirely.
“This would be a catastrophe of immense magnitude for people,” he said.
Most illegal finning occurs in the waters off Central America. During the past 15 years, Costa Rica-based Pretoma has fought finning by raising public awareness and advocating fishing policy reform.
“Some people may wonder why we’re riding so far from the coast,” DiMaggio said. “We think that finning is not only an ocean issue, it’s an Earth issue. While attacks on humans are exceedingly rare, people’s fear of these creatures is intense, often based on works of fiction like ‘Jaws.’ ’’
More people die from bee stings and eating peanuts each year than ever do from an encounter with a shark, he said.
“We plan to deliver a series of slide presentations along the way,” he added. “We want to share understanding on the plight of the world’s sharks and the implications on the health of the world ocean, and to raise money to support Pretoma and ARCAE, two Costa Rican nonprofit organizations actively working to end finning off Central America.”