By Sara Amundson and Kitty Block
It is the dream of a better world for animals that inspires our work, but it is action that will get us there, and that’s what made Friday’s events on the floor of the U.S. House of Representatives momentous. All at once, in a single session, in one package—the America COMPETES Act (H.R. 4521)—the House voted to support half a dozen wildlife protection measures. As a result, we’re just steps away from achieving sweeping protections for hundreds of millions of animals worldwide.
Those protections include a total prohibition on the commercial trade in shark fins in the U.S.; a substantial scaling up of U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service personnel and resources to combat wildlife trafficking and close wildlife markets abroad; a comprehensive marine mammal health and mortality platform to support rescue, response and conservation; and a phase out of large-mesh fishing driftnets—a menace to dolphins, sharks, and sea turtles—in those U.S. waters where they are still in use.
We worked for months with allies and champions in both chambers, and from both parties, who have gone the extra mile. The next hurdle involves reconciliation between the COMPETES Act, with these animal-friendly measures, and the Senate’s U.S. Innovation and Competition Act, which contains the shark fin trade prohibition as well. Once the differences in the House and Senate bills are reconciled, the final legislative package will go back to each chamber for a final vote, and then be sent to President Biden for his signature.
We’re working to preserve every one of those wildlife gains in the final version, and if we’re successful, this legislation promises to bring us that much closer to the world we are trying to create. A world in which sharks can swim with no threat of cruel slaughter to meet the demands for a fancy soup dish, and one where expanded economic opportunities reduce human demand for wildlife as food, lowering the risk of pandemic spread via wildlife markets. A world in which the U.S. marketplace plays no role in the decimation of wildlife species and the U.S. government brings a lot more technological bite to existing anti-trafficking and anti-poaching programs. A world without indiscriminate killing of countless sea creatures accidentally netted by our fishing fleets.
In short, this is a world worth fighting for. In the afterglow of this extraordinary day in the history of animal protection, we have a lot of people to thank, including members of both parties in the House and the Senate. We had the benefit of tremendous support and counsel from key leaders who went to bat for us. And we have you to thank, too, because it is your commitment, your devotion to animals and your political engagement that lays the foundation for all that we are able to achieve in our public policy work.
In the future, we’ll share more details about the impact of these developments on our wildlife protection work in the United States and throughout the world. In each and every case, these measures will produce tangible and lasting benefits for animals. The voting is over but the work is just beginning. We’re ready to take up that burden and we hope you are too. The world we seek is no idle fancy or pipe dream. It’s a better one, for all who live and breathe, and together we can get there.
Kitty Block is CEO of the Humane Society of the United States.