This week on Earth Day, April 22nd, U.S. Representatives Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan (I-MP) and Michael McCaul (R-TX) reintroduced the Shark Fin Sales Elimination Act. The bill, which is endorsed by the Animal Welfare Institute (AWI), would prohibit the sale, purchase, and possession of shark fins in the United States, helping to curb an inhumane global trade that claims the lives of 73 million sharks each year.
Shark finning is a cruel practice that entails cutting off a shark’s fins — often while the shark is still alive — and throwing the mutilated body in the ocean, where the helplessly immobile shark will suffocate, bleed to death, or succumb to an attack by a predator.
First introduced in 2016, the Shark Fin Sales Elimination Act overwhelmingly passed the House of Representatives in late 2019 after amassing 287 cosponsors. The Senate companion, led by Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), garnered 46 cosponsors in the Senate and cleared the Commerce Committee, but did not receive a floor vote.
“Sharks have existed for hundreds of millions of years on this planet, and yet these remarkable apex predators now face one of the biggest threats to their survival because of the demand for their fins,” said AWI President Cathy Liss. “Three-quarters of oceanic shark species are at risk of extinction. Passing legislation to clamp down on the global shark fin trade is essential if we are going to protect sharks and maintain functioning marine ecosystems. We are grateful to Representatives Sablan and McCaul for their steadfast leadership.”
Although tasteless, shark fins are considered a delicacy and used in traditional East Asian soups and other dishes. According to an online database maintained by AWI, more than 200 restaurants across the United States continue to offer shark fin products.
Federal lawmakers have twice acted to curb the growing demand for shark fins. In 2000, Congress passed the Shark Finning Prohibition Act, which banned the possession of shark fins in US waters absent the rest of the shark’s body. And in 2010, Congress passed the Shark Conservation Act, requiring fishermen in US waters to bring sharks ashore whole, with their fins attached. Unfortunately, loopholes and lackluster enforcement have allowed shark finning to persist, with the United States playing a significant role in exporting fins around the world.
Fourteen states and three territories have already enacted bans on selling shark fins in response to the dire threats facing sharks worldwide. Canada, the largest importer of shark fins outside of Asia, banned shark fin imports and exports in 2019.
Featured image: the endangered scalloped hammerhead shark is one of many shark species threatened by the shark fin trade. Image credit Kris-Mikael Krister, CC BY-SA 2.0.