By Sara Amundson and Kitty Block
A bill to end all commercial trade in the United States of shark fins and shark fin products was reintroduced in the U.S. House today.
The Shark Fin Sales Elimination Act, H.R. 2811, already enjoys great support in Congress and a previous version passed the House during the last session by an overwhelming vote of 310 to 107. The bill also passed a key Senate committee but failed to see action from the full Senate before the session ended.
We are hopeful of success this time round. There is no time to lose with sharks being killed 30% faster than they can reproduce. A recent study found that shark and ray populations in the world’s open oceans have plummeted by 71% over the last 50 years. Another study of reefs in 58 countries found no sharks in nearly 20% of the reefs: a shocking development as reefs are usually bustling with shark activity and their presence is vital for these marine ecosystems.
The global trade in shark fins is responsible, in large part, for this decline. It is estimated that fins from a whopping 73 million sharks are traded globally each year, mainly for shark fin soup.
Americans overwhelmingly oppose this trade, in which fishermen typically slice the fins off a shark, then discard the mutilated animal back in the water to drown, bleed to death, or be eaten alive by other fish. Unfortunately, our nation is a big importer of shark fins, most of which come from countries with poor or nonexistent shark fishing regulations where finning almost certainly occurs.
The United States is also a major transportation hub for shark fin shipments—a fact highlighted last year by the confiscation of 1,400 pounds of shark fins in Miami. Valued at nearly $1 million, the shipment originated in South America and was likely headed to Asia—a typical route for U.S. shark fin transshipments.
U.S. law already prevents shark finning, but because of the complex international network of the shark fin trade and the difficulty of regulating activities that take place at sea the law cannot be truly effective unless we also ban all trade in shark fins.
We have been working with states to pass laws ending commercial trade in fins and to date 17 states and three U.S. territories have already passed bans or limited the sale of shark fins. But in order to strike a body blow to this problem we need a federal law ending commercial trade in fins once and for all in the United States. Such a ban would also help reassert U.S. standing as a global leader on the important issue of shark conservation and would likely encourage other countries follow in our footsteps.
We applaud Reps. Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan, D-Northern Mariana Islands, and Michael McCaul, R-Texas, for their persistence and leadership on this issue and for reintroducing the Shark Fin Sales Elimination Act. Sharks are apex predators who play a critical role in our marine ecosystems, and without them our planet would be in crisis: a chance we simply cannot take. Please urge your U.S. Representative to support this important bill and swiftly pass it into law.
Kitty Block is President and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States.