By Kitty Block and Sara Amundson
At a time when bipartisanship can be unpredictable in politics, it’s particularly gratifying to recognize four lawmakers who have joined together to advance one of the most urgent animal protection measures in the Congress, the Shark Fin Sales Elimination Act.
This week, we’re honoring Senate bill leads Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., and Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., and House bill leads Del. Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan, D-Northern Mariana Islands, and Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas, in our 2021 Legislator of the Year awards. These lawmakers might have differing political philosophies, constituencies and primary interests, but when it comes to shark protection, they represent a united front. They understand the need for action to halt the shark fin trade; they have been dedicated and energetic champions of the legislation; and they share a clear vision of shark protection as part of a broader responsibility to prevent cruelty to these animals and ensure the integrity of ocean ecosystems.
We also know that each awardee feels strongly about this issue. Since he came to Washington, Sen. Booker has been a consistent advocate for many legislative initiatives benefitting animals, including sharks. In Sen. Capito’s case, a family member who works in the environmental field brought to her attention the shark fin trade’s cruelty and unsustainability. She found the case against it compelling and was particularly disturbed by the international nature of the shark fin market and its connections to wildlife trafficking and other crimes.
For the House bill leads, the connection to the shark fin trade is still more personal. Del. Sablan represents the Northern Mariana Islands, a commonwealth whose residents have a deep stake in ocean health and sharks’ contributions to it. When the Northern Mariana Islands banned the sale of shark fins in 2011, it was among the first U.S. territories or states to do so. Shark protection is also a way of life for Rep. McCaul, whose wife Linda Mays McCaul is an oceanographer and shark conservationist who testified in support of the bill in the 116th Congress.
The Shark Fin Sales Elimination Act has a record of robust congressional support and a strong chance of passage in this Congress. In the 116th Congress, the legislation passed the House by an overwhelming 310-107 vote. In the current Congress, both chambers have passed Shark Fin Sales Elimination Act as part of broader packages: the Senate as part of its U.S. Innovation and Competition Act (S. 1260), and the House in the America COMPETES Act (H.R. 4521). However, for various reasons the final passage of the Shark Fin Sales Elimination Act has been delayed, but we hope Congress will pass the bill into law soon.
The need for action to save sharks is acute. More than a third of shark and related species, like skates and rays, are at risk of extinction, with shark and ray populations in open oceans plummeting 71% over the last 50 years. Despite this, the U.S. shark fin business remains brisk. The federal government recently charged a Florida-based company for falsely labeling 5,666 pounds of shark fins intended for export. In April, Texas game wardens found nearly 400 shark fins in a San Antonio restaurant, in violation of Texas’s law banning all sales of shark fins.
More than two hundred other congressional members received our recognition this week for their dedicated work supporting animal welfare in 2021. This includes 56 U.S. legislators who received a perfect score on the 2021 Humane Scorecard’s legislative checklist and/or who took action on pro-animal issues at their own initiative.
We are fortunate that there is substantial bipartisan enthusiasm for many of the measures we’re promoting in the U.S. Congress, and a lot of goodwill toward our cause on the part of legislators. We know that these are not things we can take for granted, and we’re grateful that so many lawmakers see our vision for a more humane future for animals and are willing to fight for our causes.
Kitty Block is CEO of the Humane Society of the United States.