Bills Aim to Eliminate US Shark Fin Market

As apex predators, sharks play a vital role in global marine ecosystems. But shark numbers are declining at an alarming rate due to shark finning, the practice of cutting off the fins—often, brutally, while the shark is still alive—and tossing the mutilated body into the ocean. The fins, which command a high price, are used in shark fin soup and traditional medicines. Despite Congress’s repeated efforts to curtail this gruesome practice, it continues, annually resulting in the deaths of over 70 million sharks according to estimates. Sharks caught in US waters must be brought ashore with fins attached (to prevent fishers from killing even more sharks when they only have to make room on board for the severed fins), but the fins can be detached on land and then sold. The United States still plays a major role in the shark fin trade, both importing and exporting fins and serving as a transit country for shipments of shark fins, including those from endangered species. Recognizing that this trade is both cruel and unsustainable, 11 states and three territories have completely banned trade in shark fins. These laws are important, but the only sure way to end the slaughter is to outlaw this trade at the federal level. The Shark Fin Sales Elimination Act (HR 1456) and the Shark Fin Trade Elimination Act (S 793), would ban the possession, sale, and purchase of shark fins throughout the United States. As noted in the Senate bill’s text, the abolition of this trade in the United States would also put the country in a “stronger position to advocate internationally for abolishing the fin trade in other countries.”

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