Today, the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation passed U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell’s (D-WA) Shark Fin Trade Elimination Act, a bill to protect declining shark populations by making it illegal to possess, buy, sell, or transport shark fins or any product containing shark fins, unless taken lawfully under a state, territorial, or federal license or permit. The measure passed the committee by voice vote.
Shark finning is a cruel practice in which the fins of a shark are cut off on board a fishing vessel at sea. The remainder of the animal is then thrown back into the water to drown, starve, or die a slow death. Shark finning has contributed to the decline of shark populations around the world.
“Sharks are critical to ocean health, and yet shark finning is putting some shark populations on the brink of extinction. Washington state passed a shark fin ban in 2011—and I strongly support enacting national polices to end the shark fin trade, reduce shark finning, and improve shark conservation,” said Senator Cantwell, the top Democrat on the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation Committee.
The legislation, led by U.S. Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ), is also co-sponsored by Senators Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Rob Portman (R-OH), Sheldon Whitehouse (D-RI), and Martha McSally (R-AZ).
Specifically, the Shark Fin Trade Elimination Act seeks to:
- Remove the U.S. contribution of shark fins to the global market;
- Allow for stronger enforcement of the “no finning” ban in the United States by increasing the maximum penalties for violating the law; and
- Put the U.S. in a stronger position to advocate internationally for abolishing the fin trade in other countries.
Although the United States has banned the practice of shark finning aboard vessels in U.S.-controlled waters, there is no federal ban on the removal and sale of shark fins once brought ashore. This loophole in federal law essentially allows for the trade of shark fins in the U.S. to continue because once a shark fin is detached from the body, it is almost impossible to determine whether the shark was legally caught or the fin lawfully removed. Determination of species is also difficult, which is problematic given that some shark species are threatened with extinction.
The state of Washington and eleven other states (TX, DE, HI, IL, MA, MD, NY, OR, RI, CA, NV) and three territories (American Samoa, Guam, and the North Mariana Islands) have already implemented bans on the sale of fins. A proposed ban is currently pending in the New Jersey Assembly.
According to research from Oceana, more than 73 million sharks end up in the global shark fin trade every year. The report also found that the slaughter of sharks is occurring faster than the species can reproduce, threatening nearly one in four shark species with extinction. Seventy percent of the 14 most common shark species in the fin trade are considered at high or very high risk of extinction.
The Shark Fin Trade Elimination Act is endorsed by The American Sportfishing Association, Oceana, SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment, the Humane Society of the United States, and the Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation.