Stand Up For Sharks! - Sailors for the Sea

Stand Up For Sharks!

By: Lora Snyder, Oceana campaign director | May 4, 2017

It’s Time For A National Shark Fin Ban

Sharks have been swimming in the oceans before dinosaurs walked the earth, but their future on this planet is now in danger. Nearly one in four species of sharks and their relatives, such as stingrays, are threatened with extinction, largely because of human activities. On average, sharks are caught and killed 30% faster than they can reproduce. Because many of these sharks mature slowly and have few young over their lifetime, their populations are slow to recover from overfishing.

Many sharks are killed to supply demand for their fins, mainly used in shark fin soup. The demand for this expensive dish has led to the inhumane practice of finning — cutting the fins off a shark and discarding its body at sea, where many die a slow death through drowning, starvation or being eaten alive. Much like rhinos and elephant populations have been decimated due to the demand for their horns and tusks, shark finning is one of the main threats to sharks worldwide. In fact, the fins from up to 73 million sharks end up in the global trade every year.

Although the act of shark finning is illegal in U.S. waters, the U.S. still imports and exports shark fins in many states legally. In fact, over 85% of the fins entering the United States come from countries that allow finning. Once the fins are removed from a shark and enter the market, it is impossible to tell whether they came from a shark harvested in a legal fishery or from finning. Additionally, it is difficult to tell what species the fins come from. This is troubling in light of the fact that, of the 14 species commonly found in the Hong Kong fin trade, 70% are considered at high or very high risk of extinction, including the great hammerhead and oceanic whitetip.

As predators at the top of the food chain, sharks play a vital role in keeping the marine ecosystem balanced. Some species also help keep coral reefs healthy by cycling nutrients (via their waste), removing invasive species (such as lionfish), and cleaning up the reef by scavenging. Changes in shark populations can have a domino effect of unintended consequences on other marine animals, including important commercial species.

Shark Tourism is a Moneymaker

Not only are sharks valuable to the marine ecosystem, they are also important to our economy. Global shark tourism is a growing industry that researchers estimate will double in the next 20 years. However, this industry relies on sharks being alive and swimming in the water.

An independent report commissioned by Oceana found that in Florida alone, divers spent $221 million in direct expenditures for shark-encounter dives in 2016. Shark diving fueled 3,700 jobs and generated wages of more than $116 million for the sunshine state. In contrast, shark fin exports for the entire United States brought in just a little over $1 million in 2015. It is clear that, in the long run, sharks in Florida simply generate more revenue alive and in the water.

Shark finning in U.S. waters was banned in 2000 by the Shark Finning Prohibition Act. The act also prohibits any person from possessing shark fins aboard a fishing vessel without its corresponding body. The Shark Conservation Act of 2010 closed loopholes in this law, prohibiting people from possessing, transferring or landing shark fins that aren’t naturally attached to the shark. The theory is that if fisherman must land the whole animal, it’s easy to determine whether or not finning has occurred.

While these two bills have been important steps in shark conservation, they don’t deter the demand for fins. The next step is a nationwide ban on shark fins, which would guarantee that the U.S. is not a participant, even indirectly, in the global shark fin trade. Sharks are being killed for their fins, much like rhinos and elephants have been decimated due to the demand for their horns and tusks. By allowing the trade of shark fins within our borders, the U.S. continues to contribute to this global problem.  A nationwide ban on the trade of shark fins would send a message to other countries that the United States recognizes shark finning as a cruel process that should not be allowed to continue, setting an example for the rest of the world.

Recently, both the U.S. House and Senate have introduced the bipartisan Shark Fin Trade Elimination Act, which would ban buying and selling of shark fins in the U.S. A national ban would reduce the international fin trade, improve upon current enforcement capabilities and reinforce the status of the United States as a leader in shark conservation.

Bans on shark fins are already in place in many areas of the country and have widespread support. Eleven states and three U.S. territories already have shark fin bans in place. Hawaii was the first state to pass such a law, fueled by support from people like Mike Coots, a surfer who suffered injuries from a tiger shark encounter when he was 18 years old.

Global Progress

Countries and businesses around the world are also beginning to take action against the shark fin trade. Many businesses have shark fin bans in place, including American Airlines, Disney, Amazon, Hilton Worldwide, GrubHub and over 19 shipping companies. The Chinese government has stopped serving shark fin soup at official functions. And last year, Oceana released a poll revealing that 8 in 10 Americans support a national ban on the buying and selling of shark fins.

We need sharks to keep our oceans healthy and tourism businesses thriving. By banning shark fins, we can help support local tourism and diving jobs and support healthy shark populations in the U.S. and around the world.

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