On November 20, the U.S. House of Representatives passed bipartisan legislation to ban the U.S. shark fin trade. The Shark Fin Sales Elimination Act (H.R. 737), which was introduced by Reps. Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan (I-M.P.) and Michael McCaul (R-T.X.), was passed by the House Natural Resources Committee in September and was cosponsored by 287 representatives at the time of its passage on the House floor. Companion legislation (S. 877), which was introduced by Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.V.), was passed by the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation in April and now awaits final passage in the Senate.
Following today’s vote, Oceana campaign director Whitney Webber released the following statement:
“Sharks have survived for millions of years — since before the dinosaurs — but their future is now in question. The demand for shark fins is decimating shark populations and the U.S. must now do its part to help protect them. Oceana applauds the House for passing this important legislation. Now it’s time for the Senate to do the same. This legislation is a bright spot of bipartisanship in Congress. Passing this bill into law will take the U.S. out of the fin trade and reduce the demand for fins. It’s time for the U.S. to once again be a leader in shark conservation. The U.S. needs a fin ban now.”
Background on the issue
The demand for shark fins incentivizes shark finning, the cruel and wasteful practice of removing a shark’s fins at sea and throwing its live body back overboard where it drowns, starves to death or is eaten alive by other fish. Just as rhino and elephant populations have declined due to the demand for their horns and tusks, the shark fin trade is jeopardizing the continued survival of many shark populations.
Although shark finning is illegal in U.S. waters, fins can still be bought and sold throughout much of the United States. These fins are often imported from countries that have ineffective shark finning bans or otherwise inadequate protections in place for sharks.
The global shark fin trade is a major contributor to the decline of shark populations around the world, with fins from as many as 73 million sharks ending up in the market every year. Some shark populations have declined by more than 90% in recent decades due to overfishing; and one-third of identified shark species in the Hong Kong fin trade, the historic center of the global trade, are threatened with extinction.
Shark-related dives in Florida generated more than $221 million in revenue and fueled over 3,700 jobs in 2016, according to an Oceana report. This stands in stark contrast with the total U.S. shark fin export market (under $1 million in the same year).
Supporters of shark fin trade bans include 12 U.S. states, 45 airlines, 21 shipping companies, seven major corporations and over 645 U.S. businesses and organizations. According to a 2016 national poll, 8 in 10 Americans support a national ban on the buying and selling of shark fins. Additionally, more than 150 scientists, 150 chefs, 140 fishermen and 85 surfers and surf businesses have sent letters to Congress urging the passage of a national shark fin ban.
Photo credit: Oceana/LX