Today the U.S. Senate rejected the continuation of the shark fin trade by passing the Shark Fin Sales Elimination Act (SFSEA) as part of a broader legislative package, the U.S. Innovation and Competition Act, S. 1260. This victory for sharks is overdue, as the international fin trade is forcing many of these apex species toward extinction.
The SFSEA would prohibit the commercial trade of shark fins and products containing shark fins. It is estimated that as many as 73 million sharks are killed globally each year for their fins, mainly for use in shark fin soup. Passage of this bill is an important step in ending this horrific trade.
One way these fins are obtained is when fishermen brutally cut them off sharks at sea, then dump the animals back in the water to drown, be eaten alive by other fish, or bleed to death—a process known as finning. Federal law already bans finning in U.S. waters, and 17 states and three U.S. territories have passed laws banning or limiting trade in shark fins. But in the remaining states shark fin soup still appears on restaurant menus and fins are still sold on grocery store shelves. Critically, many of these fins are imported, obtained on the high seas—outside the jurisdiction of any country—where fishing is unregulated, or from countries lacking good shark fishery policies or enforcement. The United States is also a major transportation hub for shark fin shipments, a fact highlighted by last year’s confiscation in Miami of 1,400 pounds of shark fins originating from South America, likely headed to Asia. At least 1,000 sharks were killed to supply those fins.
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 on 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 U.S. Innovation and Competition Act will now proceed to the U.S. House of Representatives, and both chambers’ leadership will negotiate the form of a final package. The House has demonstrated strong support for the SFSEA, both through an overwhelming 310 to 107 vote in the 116th Congress and in the 133 bipartisan cosponsors who already joined H.R. 2811—the standalone bill introduced last month by Reps. Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan, D-Northern Mariana Islands, and Michael McCaul, R-Texas. That makes us hopeful the text will stay in the package through the negotiation process.
We thank Sens. Brian Schatz, D-Hawaii, and Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., for offering the SFSEA text as an amendment to S. 1260. The text mirrors the language of the standalone Shark Fin Sales Elimination Act, S. 1106, led by longtime SFSEA champions Sens. Cory Booker, D-N.J., and Capito.
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 the whole world. By taking decisive action now, Congress—and our nation—can reverse the tide for this keystone category of animals, and for the ecosystems that depend on them.