On April 22, 2021, Representatives Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan (D- MP) and Michael McCaul (R-TX) reintroduced the Shark Fin Sales Elimination Act HR 2811.
Endorsed by Shark Stewards, the bill would prohibit the sale, purchase, and possession of shark fins in the United States, helping to curb the cruel and unsustainable trade that kills as many as 100 million sharks globally, each year.
A previous version of this bill passed the House of Representatives in November of 2019 with a large bipartisan majority. Unfortunately, the companion bill, introduced by Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Shelly Moore Capito (R-WV), was killed by Florida Senator Marco Rubio and did not pass through the Senate in November 2019.
The Shark Fin Sales Elimination Act would end the United States’ role by banning the sale, possession, or purchase of shark fins including products that contain shark fins such as shark fin soup.
“Sharks have roamed the oceans maintaining biological diversity for hundreds of millions of years. Yet, in just a few decades humans have overfished these important apex predators down to the danger point. We have lost 71 % of our sharks and ray populations, and many large species such as great hammerheads and oceanic whitetips face extinction,” said Shark Stewards Director David McGuire. “It is critical for the USA to protect shark populations globally while supporting sustainable US fisheries management and the health and stability of marine ecosystems. We are grateful to Representatives Sablan and McCaul for their outstanding leadership and look forward to the companion bill to be reintroduced into the Senate.”
Shark fins are considered a delicacy and used in traditional soups in China and other SE Asian countries. Once the dish of the emperors, it is now considered to represent generosity and wealth, but the demand is causing illness to the oceans and to humans. The cartilage from the fins is tasteless, has no nutritive value and in many cases is high in toxic mercury.
Shark finning is the practice that entails cutting off a shark’s fins — often while the shark is still alive — and discarding the mutilated body back in the ocean, leaving the shark to suffocate and bleed to death.
The practice of shark finning is illegal in the United States and most countries with ocean borders, and it is condemned by the United Nations. However, the lucrative trade incentivizes fishermen to kill sharks for their fins and for smugglers to pass them through US ports and other regions unrestricted. US law requires fishermen to bring sharks ashore whole, with their fins attached. Yet, legal loopholes and enforcement challenges have allowed shark finning to persist, including the trade of endangered species, with the United States playing a significant role in exporting fins around the world.
The USA Contributes to the Global Decline of Sharks
A 2020 study by the National Resources Defense Council reported that over the years of 2010 to 2017, between 591 and 859 metric tons of shark fins, estimated at around 900,000 sharks, passed through U.S. ports. Tons of shark fins from Latin America to Africa routinely pass through U.S. ports for report to Hong Kong, China and SE Asia. In January 2020, the US Fish and Wildlife Service and Customs and Border Protection inspectors in Miami confiscated 1,400 pounds in-transit between Latin America and Asia, worth over 1 million dollars.
In this seizure, 4000 fins estimated from at least a thousand sharks came from protected species such as the great hammerhead shark, the silky shark, and the thresher shark. Customs officials believe this interdiction is a drop in the ocean, given the millions of uninspected and incorrectly marked containers passing through our ports. Through sales and trade the US is contributing to the decline of shark populations and illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing.
Since 2006 Shark Stewards has been a leader in banning the shark fin trade and regulating the overfishing of sharks and protecting their habitat.