By Sara Amundson and Kitty Block
Update 12/23/22: President Biden has signed the National Defense Authorization Act into law, which removes the U.S. from the cruel shark fin trade and helps to combat wildlife trafficking.
There have been some massive wins for animals recently in the U.S., as the Congress acts to pass some protections we’ve been championing for years. Right on the heels of the Big Cat Public Safety Act’s resounding passage, two additional animal protection measures were wrapped into the National Defense Authorization Act, which authorizes funding levels and determines authority for the Department of Defense’s most critical priorities.
Both the Eliminate, Neutralize and Disrupt (END) Wildlife Trafficking Act and the Shark Fin Sales Elimination Act just passed the U.S. Senate, as part of the NDAA package, which the U.S. House of Representatives approved last week. What’s so exciting about this is that the NDAA, which passed by a 350-80 vote in the House, is on the fast track to President Joe Biden for his signature, meaning there will be concrete results to better the lives of countless animals in the very near future.
The END Wildlife Trafficking Act reauthorizes and builds on 2016 legislation that has already helped to strengthen the U.S. government’s capacity to combat illegal wildlife trafficking using advanced technology and a ramping up of federal initiatives to eliminate, neutralize and disrupt illegal trade networks. This increased focus has already resulted in the arrest of largescale wildlife traffickers.
Wildlife trafficking is a conservation challenge, but it is also a matter of national security and global stability, since transnational criminal networks are actively expanding and using their profits from trafficking to fund other illicit activities. In just a few years, wildlife trafficking has become one of the most lucrative criminal activities in the world, accounting for an estimated $7.8 to $10 billion annually.
The Shark Fin Sales Elimination Act removes the U.S. from the international shark fin trade, helping to stem shark finning in countries where it is legal or where anti-finning policies lack adequate enforcement. Shark finning is one of the most heinous forms of animal cruelty, and we’ve been working to raise awareness and end the trade, since more than a third of shark and related species are at risk of extinction, with these species plummeting 71% over the last 50 years. Shark fins are part of an illicit global commerce in which criminal interests engaged in money laundering, drug trafficking and other illegal activities fill their coffers with profits from shark fin sales. Fins from about 73 million sharks are traded on the global market each year.
The House and Senate versions of the Shark Fin Sales Elimination Act have garnered 251 and 46 cosponsors, respectively, with solid bipartisan support and a deep understanding of the expansive transnational web of shark fin commerce and how it fuels the reckless and cruel practice of shark finning, which involves cutting off sharks’ fins, often while they are still alive, and discarding their bodies in the ocean, keeping the fins to sell for use in soup and other dishes. For their consistency and dedication in championing this measure to save sharks, we honored 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, with Humane Legislator of the Year awards in September. This legislation passed both chambers earlier in the 117th Congress as part of legislative packages addressing international trade. We’re so heartened to finally see the Shark Fin Sales Elimination Act becoming reality.
In November, a Humane Society International team at the 19th Conference of the Parties (CoP19) of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) was among those lobbying successfully for increased protections for 54 species of requiem sharks and hammerhead sharks on CITES Appendix II. This accomplishment places nearly all shark species traded internationally for their fins under CITES oversight and controls, up from just 25% prior to CoP19.
These two measures have been priorities for us for good reason. They promise to spare millions of animals worldwide from persecution, suffering and death. But their passage will also set the stage for a stronger global response to criminal networks that use trafficking profits to undermine governments and civil society across the world.
There’s a lot of work to do to make this world a better and safer one for imperiled terrestrial wildlife and marine creatures like sharks, both subject to cruel and unsustainable exploitation tied to human greed and indifference. We will continue to pursue our goals of ending illicit wildlife trafficking and shark finning by all means available, including demand reduction campaigns, increased legal protection and law enforcement efforts throughout the world, and close cooperation with community, conservation, food security and public health organizations with a shared interest in these concerns. Integrating our national response to their plight within the primary strategic defense funding vehicle of our federal government is a great step forward, however, and it means that we’ll be doing more than saving wildlife. We’ll also be laying the foundations for a more peaceful and stable world order, one that’s better for people and animals.
Kitty Block is CEO of the Humane Society of the United States.