Mark Leon Harrison of Southport, Florida had a bad day this week, but not bad enough considering the millions of sharks finned. Harrison, according to NOAA Special Agent-in-Charge Hal Robbins, was once one of the United States' largest commercial shark fin buyers. Today, he is a convicted criminal in financial ruin.
Mark Leon Harrison was sentenced in federal court on August 19, 2009, as result of his having pleaded guilty on June 12 to three misdemeanor violations. The sentence handed down by Judge Vineyard did not deviate from that outlined in the government's plea agreement despite efforts by Sea Shepherd Conservation Society to see the sentence enhanced to include incarceration.
Harrison, owner and manager of Harrison International, LLC, of Southport, Florida, was engaged in the business of buying, acquiring, transporting, processing (including drying), selling, and exporting shark fins.
Mark Harrison and Harrison International pleaded guilty to attempting to export fins from sharks protected by Florida and/or federal laws and for dealing in shark fins, the landing of which had not been reported as required by law.
Harrison pleaded guilty to a third charge related to trading in shark fins that had been prepared, packed, or held under unsanitary conditions. Harrison processed shark fins by drying them on open-air racks and/or tarpaulins laid on the ground, outdoors on his property in Southport, Florida. The fins were left out at all times until dry. Dogs ran freely among the drying racks. Investigators discovered fins being dried on Harrison's property had, among other things, bird droppings and dead insects on them, and insect larvae in them. Sea Shepherd Conservation Society knows this to be a common practice around the world.
Harrison was sentenced to 5 years probation, a $5000 fine, and a $75 special assessment. Harrison will have to spend 120 days in home confinement and pay the cost of his monitoring. He is forbidden to having anything to do with the shark fin trade, has to perform 150 hours of community service, and take out an advertisement in a major fishing trade publication regarding his criminal acts. Harrison International, LLC was sentenced to 5 years probation, a $125 special assessment, and a $5000 fine. His attorney represented in court that Harrison is now in financial ruin and that his only income is from a lawn care business he runs from his home. Harrison International, LLC is defunct and has no assets or income. Judge Vineyard still imposed the fines on both Mark Harrison and Harrison International and allowed Harrison to pay both over the five years of probation.
These fines and the 120 days of home confinement are a slap on the wrist in the continuum of criminal penalties available to the government; however, and sadly, even this minor sentence is more than what is commonly handed down in US wildlife cases. While this reality must be changed (the laws strengthened, penalties increased, and judges and prosecutors informed) the Sea Shepherd Conservation Society salutes the judge, prosecutor, and investigators in this case for the outcome. Harrison International is defunct and Mark Harrison is in financial ruin. If only we could see all aspects of the shark fin trade criminalized in the United States and throughout the world and all those involved in the horrific trade be brought to ruin. Contact your elected officials and encourage them to outlaw the shark fin trade.