By Sara Amundson and Kitty Block
The U.S. House just said a decisive and resounding “no” to the terrible shark fin trade, in which fishermen cut the fins off sharks and dump them back into the waters to drown, be eaten alive by other fish, or bleed to death.
House members voted 310 to 107 to pass the Shark Fin Sales Elimination Act, H.R. 737, a bill that would end all commercial trade in the United States, including all imports, exports, trade, distribution and possession for commercial purposes of shark fins and products containing shark fins. Americans overwhelmingly oppose this brutal trade, in which fins from as many as 73 million sharks are traded globally each year. Worse, this trade—driven by a market for shark fin soup—is forcing many shark species toward extinction.
The action next moves to the Senate, where a third of the members have signed on to a parallel bill, S. 877.
While federal law already bans finning in U.S. waters, and 13 states and three U.S. territories have passed laws banning or limiting shark fin sales, our nation continues to be an end market for shark fins, with shark fin soup still appearing on the menus of some restaurants. The United States also serves as a destination for shark fins obtained on the high seas where finning is unregulated, or from countries lacking good policies or enforcement on finning.
That’s why the Humane Society of the United States and Humane Society Legislative Fund have been working so hard to secure a law that decisively ends this trade in the United States once and for all. By passing such a bill, our nation can reassert its standing as a global leader on the important issue of shark conservation. When the U.S. leads on such efforts, other countries follow, as occurred with the ivory trade.
Sharks are now being killed 30 percent faster than they can reproduce. It is estimated that between 2000 and 2011, 16,815 metric tons of shark fins were traded worldwide. This commerce is unsustainable, and some shark populations have declined by as much as 90% in recent decades, resulting in a crisis not only for sharks themselves but for the balance of ocean ecosystems.
Along with our affiliates stateside and globally through Humane Society International, we have been working to end finning. We helped enact federal laws in 2000 and 2010 that prohibited finning in U.S. waters, and we have worked in a number of states to secure the passage of laws banning or limiting the sale of shark fins, including California, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Hampshire, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Texas and Washington. We are continuing to work on similar bills in other states. Three U.S. territories—American Samoa, Guam, and the Northern Mariana Islands—also have such bans.
Earlier this year, the Canadian Parliament passed a shark fin sales ban for which HSI had vigorously advocated, and we continue to work on ending shark finning and reducing the trade and consumption of shark fins globally.
Today’s victory for sharks in the U.S. House is a proud moment for those of us who have long sought to strengthen protections for these animals, and we are especially grateful to the bill’s lead sponsors, Reps. Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan, D-Northern Mariana Islands, and Michael McCaul, R-Texas. We now look to the Senate, where a counterpart bill has been introduced by Sens. Cory Booker, D-N.J., and Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va. In April, the Senate Commerce Committee passed S. 877 with a voice vote, and we are hopeful the bill will soon be brought to the full floor for a vote.
Time is running out for sharks. These iconic predators are important in marine ecosystems and serve as key indicators of ocean health. Declining shark numbers can cause irreversible damage to fragile ocean environments and, ultimately, to our earth. By taking decisive action now, Congress—and our nation—can reverse the tide for this keystone species, and for the ecosystems that depend on them.
Kitty Block is President and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States.