To help save sharks from extinction, the United States just moved one step closer to protecting them from the global shark fin trade.
On Thursday December 15, 2022, the Senate approved language making the possession, sale and trade of shark fins illegal, with a few exceptions, and ban the trade of shark fins. On Thursday, December 15, the Senate passed the NDAA with the Shark Fin Bill included in the massive spending bill.The bill will now go to President Biden for his signature.
The provision (HR 2811) was inserted into the National Defense Authorization Act and passed through the House last week. The bill was reintroduced and passed through the House as part of the National Defense Authorization Act by an overwhelming majority on December 8, 2022.
The bipartisan bill was reintroduced in 2020 by Assemblyman Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan (D. Northern Mariana Island) and Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Tex.) following 3 previous congressional attempts. The Senate version (S1106) was reintroduced by Senator Cory Booker (D NJ) who authored the last version, eliminated by Senator Marco Rubio in the 116th Congress.
The intent of the law is to reduce overfishing sharks and protect cruel, illegal and wasteful fishing driven by the global shark fin trade. It has been estimated that between 73- 100 million sharks are killed a year, most for their fins.
Shark finning is the unsustainable and inhumane practice of cutting off a shark’s fins, often while the shark is still alive, and discarding the body into the ocean. The fins are used in the luxury shark fin soup and other dishes. Once an expensive dish limited to the nobility, shark fin soup is now widely sold to millions of consumers. As economies grow in Asia, a dish once reserved for the elite is now available to the middle class, and is in huge demand among many communities in China and around the world. Although shark finning is illegal in the USA, the sale and trade of fins is still allowed in 36 US states. Shark fins are also imported and re-exported thereby contributing to shark finning and other illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing of sharks. The trade in shark fin is increasing shark catch, placing more pressure on threatened species and is driving overfishing of many shark species.
“We understand that sharks are critical to life in the ocean. Yet, despite their importance ecologically and economically, sharks are in serious trouble.”Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan (D), Bill Sponsor HR2811
Globally shark populations are on the decline. 77% of oceanic shark and ray species were considered threatened with extinction under the Red List criteria of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) in 2020. Sharks are being overfished at an alarming rate, and the shark fin trade is threatening large species of sharks such as the Critically Endangered oceanic whitetip sharks with extinction.
The fin is the main ingredient in shark fin soup, a delicacy in China and other countries. Shark fins are used to make shark fin soup, a delicacy once prepared exclusively for the Chinese emperors and nobility. The cartilage from the fin is carefully dried and prepared, and used as an ingredient in a soup flavored with seafood or chicken broth and herbs. The process of preparation makes this dish very costly, as much as $100.00 a bowl, and is commonly served at banquets and weddings. The serving of the dish is considered very prestigious and even propitious.
Dried shark fin is the most expensive seafood product by weight, and is a huge incentive for fishermen to hunt sharks for their fins. Increasingly, the fins are incentive to overfish shark populations for fins attached or for fins alone.
One third of sharks, rays and related fish are at risk of extinction, making the group of species among the most threatened vertebrates in the world. By nature, sharks tend to grow slowly, are late to sexually mature and, for some species, produce few pups per litter, making them particularly vulnerable to overfishing. As a result, many species are now in serious trouble.
Beginning in Hawaii, 14 US states have already banned shark fin sales. And finning is already illegal in U.S. waters. Boats catch sharks in US waters are required to land sharks with fins attached. However, many nations exploit loopholes, or conduct in Illegal, Unregulated or Unreported fisheries, killing sharks unsustainably are responsible for killing at least 20 million sharks per year. Once the fins are removed and dried, it is difficult for enforcement officer to identify protected or endangered species, or sharks that have been caught illegally.
“The USA facilitates the global decline of sharks through consumption and import/export of unsustainably harvested shark fins. This legislation will show world that sharks are important to ocean health and will provide reprieve for overfished and sharks endangered by the global trade.”
David McGuire, Director Shark Stewards
The California bill passed in 2009 co-sponsored by a Chinese born American Paul Fong. Led by the California based nonprofit Shark Stewards with a coalition of Asian-Americans, the conservation group and lawmakers were able to overcome criticism of racial stereotypes and underscore that sharks are important to all nations, and all peoples.
The legislation follows a bold international move to protect more than 90 species of sharks and rays at the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) to expand the number of shark species protected.
The U.S. ban will have exceptions, including allowing the sale of fins from certain dogfish sharks. The defense authorization act also will also combat Illegal Fishing and Forced Labor Prevention Act (sections of H.R. 3075). Several provisions of the bill were included that will help combat illegal fishing and forced labor in global seafood supply chains, and reauthorize programs supporting coral reefs conservation and for the rehabilitation of marine mammals.