We’re in the full swing of beach season. Every year, without fail, news outlets post stories about the dreaded shark fin-sighting on the horizon, striking fear into the hearts of potential beachgoers and causing panic on the shore.
Instead of inspiring fear, however, these shark sightings should inspire hope. Not only do sharks play extremely important roles in balancing ocean ecosystems as top predators, they also play important roles in coastal-tourism economies. Shark-based tourism is a booming industry in the U.S. More and more divers are clamoring to swim with these magnificent creatures. But shark tourism depends wholly on healthy shark populations, and unfortunately, many shark species are in trouble.
Right now, it’s especially impossible to ignore that our oceans are facing an array of threats. These include plastic pollution, threats to open new U.S. waters to offshore oil drilling, and congressional attempts to undermine key conservation regulations that govern our nation’s fisheries.
With challenges like these, it’s easy to feel hopeless when it comes to solving environmental issues. But what if there was a bright spot on the horizon — a real solution that would bolster the United States’ role as a leader in shark conservation?
Currently, there is legislation in Congress that would ban the buying and selling of shark fins in the United States. Passage would remove our country once and for all from this terrible trade. Senators Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.), and Representatives Ed Royce (R-C.A.) and Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan (I-M.P.) introduced the bipartisan Shark Fin Trade/Sales Elimination Act (S.793/H.R.1456) last year. And even better news? This legislation is most widely supported in Congress, co-sponsored by a majority of House members (239) as well as 33 senators from both parties. This bill is a simple, cost-effective solution that would remove the U.S. from the shark-fin trade entirely.
Demand for shark fins
The demand for shark fins is one of the greatest threats facing global shark populations. Similar to how the ivory trade has decimated elephant populations, many shark species are threatened due to demand for their fins. In fact, fins from as many as 73 million sharks end up in the global market every year. Some come from species at high risk of extinction. As a result, some shark populations have declined by more than 90 percent compared to historic levels. Although the brutal and wasteful act of shark finning — slicing the fins off a shark, often still alive, and dumping the animal overboard to bleed to death — is illegal in U.S. waters, fins from countries with no finning regulations are still imported into our country every year, mainly for use in shark-fin soup.
This is particularly troubling since shark populations are especially vulnerable to exploitation. Many of the species targeted for their fins have long lifespans, mature slowly, and produce relatively few young, making them very slow to recover from unsustainable fishing.
Closing the loophole
To be fair, shark conservation in the United States has come a long way in recent decades. Over the past 20 years, Congress has passed several pieces of legislation to stop finning in U.S. waters. These include the Shark Finning Prohibition Act in 2000 and the Shark Conservation Act in 2010.
Although both laws were great steps forward for shark conservation, legislation must fix the loophole allowing importation of fins. The U.S. is still indirectly incentivizing shark finning by importing fins from countries that have no regulations against finning. And although finning is illegal here, unfortunately it still happens. The most recent case involves a bust of a Key West shrimp vessel loaded with dismembered fins.
Once a shark fin is detached and enters the market, it is nearly impossible to determine whether it was removed from a shark that was caught for its meat or from a shark that was finned and then dumped at sea. Any bowl of shark-fin soup in the United States could contain fins from a finned shark. The best way to ensure that the U.S. is not supporting shark finning would be an outright ban on the trade of shark fins.
Consequences of finning
The fin trade not only has dire ecological consequences, it also can affect coastal tourism. According to a 2016 independent economic report commissioned by Oceana, shark-related dives in Florida alone generated more than $221 million in revenue and fueled over 3,700 jobs in 2016. This stands in stark contrast with the total U.S. shark fin export market, which was worth only $850,000 the same year.
A national ban on the trade of shark fins would not only protect sharks, remove the United States from the global-fin trade, and empower the U.S. to encourage other countries to do the same, but would also ensure that dive businesses continue to thrive. If sharks disappear so too could the jobs that depend on healthy ocean ecosystems.
Support for a ban on shark fins is not limited to just one industry or region. Twelve states, 40 airlines, 20 shipping companies, 85 surfers and surf businesses, 150 scientists, over 150 chefs, multiple recreational fishing groups and over 500 U.S. organizations and businesses all either support a national fin ban or have implemented their own ban. According to a 2016 national poll, there is broad bipartisan support for the legislation, with eight in 10 Americans supporting such a ban.
Sharks are among the oldest living vertebrate predators on the planet, originating around 420 million years ago, almost 200 million years before dinosaurs walked the Earth. They have survived mass extinction events and shifting ocean ecosystems. The grim reality, however, is that they may not survive contact with humans if we don’t act to save them before it’s too late.
To protect sharks, we must end the demand for shark fins, starting here at home. It is time for Congress to demonstrate leadership and pass this important legislation.
The Shark Fin Sales Elimination Act has a good chance of passing this year. But right now, it needs an extra push to help get it across the finish line in Congress. Here are a few ways you can help:
Visit oceana.org/FinBanNow to learn more about the global shark-fin trade and why we need a national ban in the United States. Tell Congress to pass the fin ban by calling your state representatives and senators. You can also add your voice to Oceana’s petition.
In the House of Representatives, Rep. Rob Bishop (R-UT), Chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, can decide whether to allow this bill to move forward out of committee. House leadership, including Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) and Majority Whip Steve Scalise (R-LA), have the authority to bring this legislation to a vote on the House Floor.
Please contact these three members and ask them to support the Shark Fin Sales Elimination Act and keep this bill moving forward in Congress.
- Representative Bishop’s office: 202-225-0453, Facebook
- Leader Kevin McCarthy’s office: 202-225-4000, Twitter; Facebook; Instagram
- Representative Steve Scalise’s office: 202-225-3015, Twitter; Facebook; Instagram
Tweet your support:
Call on leaders in the U.S. House of Representatives to pass the Shark Fin Sales Elimination Act by clicking this link. You will be re-directed to your Twitter account with the message below automatically added to your Twitter status box — simply click to tweet.
“The global shark fin trade is one of the greatest threats to sharks worldwide. The U.S. must pass the Shark Fin Sales Elimination Act and ban the trade of shark fins. @SpeakerRyan @NancyPelosi @GOPLeader @SteveScalise @WhipHoyer”