Sharks around the planet are under attack. Every year, at least 100 million sharks are killed, an unsustainable number. A huge portion of these sharks, over 70 million, are killed for their fins, which are dried and used as the key ingredient in shark fin soup. The soup is popularly across parts of Asia, specifically in China, however it’s also sold and consumed right here in the United States. But now, a bill introduced in Congress seeks to put an end to the U.S. shark fin trade.
The Shark Fin Sales Elimination Act (H.R. 1456), which was introduced by Representative Ed Royce (R-CA), aims to ban the possession, sale, and purchase of shark fins in the United States. Royce’s home state of California banned the shark fin trade in 2011. Yet about 60 tons of shark fins still arrive at the Port of Los Angeles each year, to be sold throughout the country. In introducing the bill, Royce stated:
The United States can set an example for the rest of the world by shutting down its market for shark fins, which are often harvested by leaving these animals to die a slow and painful death at the bottom of the ocean. While California led the way with a state-wide ban, there are still almost 40 states where the purchase of shark fins is legal. The bipartisan Shark Fin Sales Elimination Act is needed to eradicate shark finning for good.
The bill, which was originally introduced in June of 2016, faced opposition from the shark fishing industry, which argued that by banning the export of shark fins, the bill would essentially be killing the industry. Shaun Gehan, the lobbyist for the group opposing the bill, explained that the export of fins from the U.S. from legally caught and processed sharks represents about half of the value of the fish; according to Gehan, U.S. fishermen makeup about 3% of the global market for shark fins. “This bill simply takes the U.S. fisherman and pretty much puts him out of business, only to reward our small portion of the international market to the bad actors,” said Gehan in an interview with The Hill last October.
The original bill didn’t make it out of committee before the 114th Congress closed its session. But the new version of the bill, which was introduced March 9, will have a full two years to be considered before it expires. Still, it will likely continue to face opposition from the shark industry.
In addition to decimating global shark populations, there is another good reason to oppose shark finning: it’s an especially cruel way to kill an animal. Fisherman often cut the fins off live sharks, dumping their bodies back into the ocean to avoid declaring the catch at port and surpassing their fishing quotas. Because finning is so brutal and facilitates circumventing fishing quotas, the practice is illegal in U.S. waters.
“The United States rightly decided to ban the trade of ivory and rhino horns—yet we still import shark fins, which can be the result of an equally brutal practice.”
Still, a recent report from Oceana found that “five of the 11 countries that export fins to the United States have no shark finning bans in place, making it very likely that fins coming into the U.S. are from sharks that have been finned.” The proposed bill would prevent the import of shark fins, thereby assuring that the United States isn’t supporting shark finning anywhere in the world.
“Shark finning is cruel and wasteful and it’s putting some shark species at risk of extinction,” explained Lora Snyder, campaign director at Oceana, which has come out in support of the bill. “The United States rightly decided to ban the trade of ivory and rhino horns—yet we still import shark fins, which can be the result of an equally brutal practice. To protect sharks, we need to end the demand for shark fins. Today, the United States took an important step towards achieving this. We applaud the leadership of the bill’s supporters today in helping to end the shark fin trade in the United States.”
Fortunately, the United States isn’t alone in seeking to further protect sharks from finning. In 2013, the European Union banned shark finning, requiring that sharks be brought to land with their fins naturally attached. And Canada, where shark finning is also illegal, has considered banning the import of shark fins. Moreover, awareness campaigns have had an impact on the shark fin market, encouraging consumers to reconsider their choices and causing a decline in shark fin sales in recent years. Still, with tens of millions of sharks killed every year for the trade, change can’t come soon enough.