The U.S. House of Representatives approved H.R. 81, the “Shark Conservation Act of 2009,” yesterday afternoon. Offered by Congresswoman Madeleine Bordallo, (D-Guam), chairwoman of the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Insular Affairs, Oceans, and Wildlife, the bill aims to end shark “finning” - the wasteful practice of slicing off a shark’s valuable fins and discarding the body at sea. Ocean Conservancy has actively supported the initiative.
The Shark Conservation Act would strengthen the U.S. finning ban by prohibiting the removal of shark fins at sea, closing enforcement loopholes, encouraging other countries to adopt shark conservation programs, and establishing a process to ultimately allow for sanctions against countries that do not.
“The Shark Conservation Act contains the tools necessary to end the wasteful practice of shark finning in the U.S. and revitalize shark conservation efforts on a global scale,” said Sonja Fordham, Shark Conservation Program Director for Ocean Conservancy. “A growing number of shark populations are threatened and yet the demand for shark fins remains strong. Loopholes have allowed some U.S. shark finning to go unpunished while, in most other countries and in international waters, finning bans serve as sharks’ only safeguards. By improving finning bans and promoting sound shark conservation strategies internationally, the U.S. can lead the charge in preventing the waste of individual sharks and the loss of entire shark populations.”
The proposed prohibition on the removal of shark fins at sea is the most reliable method for enforcing a finning ban. In addition to ending guess work about whether sharks were finned, the “fins-attached” strategy improves officials’ ability to determine the species of sharks retained in fisheries, information that is essential for assessing populations and enforcing species-specific protections. The National Marine Fisheries Service has already banned the removal of shark fins at sea for Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico fisheries, effective July 2008. A complicated fin-to-carcass weight ratio remains in place in the U.S., Pacific, and most international waters.
“We thank Chairwoman Bordallo for her leadership in this important initiative to safeguard some of the ocean’s most imperiled animals,” continued Fordham. “We urge the Senate to promptly take similar action and thereby ensure that the U.S. finning ban is the world’s best and a model for other countries.”
Shark fins, sought for the Asian delicacy shark fin soup, are among the world’s most valuable fishery products. The discrepancy between high value fins and lower value meat creates an economic incentive to take the fins and discard the body at sea. Demand for shark fins is a driving force in shark fisheries, most of which are unsustainable.
Finning was banned in the U.S. Atlantic in 1993; the Shark Finning Prohibition Act of 2000 established a national prohibition on the practice. Loopholes in the law and similar international rules have hampered enforcement while many fishing nations still allow finning to continue.
Ocean Conservancy has been actively engaged in shark conservation efforts for nearly two decades. Ms. Fordham was a leading proponent of the 1993 U.S. Atlantic finning ban, the Shark Finning Prohibition Act of 2000, and the first international shark finning ban in 2004, as well as multiple domestic management plans and international actions for sharks.