House Committee Advances On Bill To Ban U.S. Shark Fin Trade, Awaits Vote On House and Senate Floors

Photo by Kurt Cotoaga on Unsplash

PROBLEM: One of the greatest threats to sharks is the demand for their fins. In fact, fins from as many as 73 million sharks end up in the global shark fin trade ever year. This leads to the act of shark finning, cutting the fins off a shark and discarding its body at sea, where it could drown, bleed to death, or be eaten alive by other fish.

WHY IT MATTERS: Although shark finning is illegal in our waters, fins can still be bought and sold in the United States, and we are importing from countries where there are inadequate protections in place for sharks.

SOLUTION: Congress should pass a law that prohibits the possession, sale, and trade of shark fins and shark fin products in the United States. A national prohibition would improve enforcement of the current finning ban, reinforce the status of the United States as a leader in shark conservation, and bring the world closer to ending the devastating trade in shark fins.

What you can do now:

Please head over to Oceana’s shark fin ban petition on their website here or copy and paste the following link into your browser: https://act.oceana.org/page/6748/action/1?ea.tracking.id=vanity

Another huge way you can help is calling the office of your congressional representative. You can find who is your representative here.

The House Natural Resources Committee has advanced a bill to ban the U.S. shark fin trade and now awaits votes on the House and Senate floors. The Shark Fin Sales Elimination Act (H.R. 737) was introduced by Reps. Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan (I-M.P.) and Michael McCaul (R-Texas), and currently has an amazing 284 total bipartisan cosponsors in the House of Representatives. Companion legislation (S. 877), which was introduced by Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.V.).

Since 2015, Miami has led the nation in the number of shark fins imported from Hong Kong, likely caused by an increasing number of import bans in other states. The discovery was a result of a review performed by the nonprofit Oceana which highlights the very negative spotlight being brought upon Miami and Florida.

“The U.S. needs a fin ban now,” said Whitney Webber, campaign director at Oceana. “Oceana thanks the committee and the more than (284*) bipartisan supporters of this bill in the House of Representatives. Now we’re calling on House leadership to pass this bill. 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. This bill would reinforce the status of the United States as a leader in shark conservation and bring the world a step closer to ending the devastating trade in shark fins.”

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 poor fisheries management in place for sharks. 

Background:

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).

Twelve states and three territories have already banned the trade of shark fins.  In addition, several states, including NJ, CT, and FL are currently considering state bans. However, this patchwork of statewide bans on shark fins makes it difficult to enforce. For example, California has had a ban on fins since 2012, but because there is no federal ban, NOAA landings data from 2017 indicates that more than half a million dollars’ worth of fins are still coming into Los Angeles and being transported through interstate commerce, which is regulated by the federal government.  A federal bill would ease the burden on law enforcement.

Even as companies and states close the door on the shark fin trade, other doors remain open, and the market shifts accordingly. For example, after California and Illinois enacted their bans, shark fin trade activity in the United States shifted primarily to Texas. Once Texas implemented its own shark fin trade ban, trade in shark fins moved to Georgia.  A federal ban will eliminate this game of whack-a-mole.

Other supporters of the bill include 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.

While the U.S. is definitely not the only cause of shark deaths and some countries across the world are killing and finning sharks at a much higher rate, it is extremely importance we completely ban the trade now. At this point, there is nothing more vital than reaching out to your congressional representatives and explaining why this ban needs to be passed. Please contact your representative here and let your voice be heard!

*Note: Total cosponsors of the bill has risen from 229 to 284 since original quote from Whitney Webber

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