Lobbyists circle shark-finning bill

Lobbyists circle shark-finning bill
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Shark-fishing houses are banding together to fight a bipartisan bill that would ban the trade of shark fins.

The ad-hoc Sustainable Shark Alliance last week registered to lobby with the sole goal of defeating the Shark Fin Trade Elimination Act.

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The bill, sponsored by Sen. -Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Del. Gregorio Sablan (D-Northern Mariana Islands), seeks to expand on Congress’s ban on shark finning, in which fishermen cut off the fish’s fin and return it to the ocean, usually to die.

Supporters say finning is cruel and has decimated populations of shark species, including endangered ones. The bill has dozens of co-sponsors, including House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.) and Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee Chairwoman Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiThis week: GOP mulls vote on ‘abolish ICE’ legislation Dem infighting erupts over Supreme Court pick McConnell: Senate to confirm Kavanaugh by Oct. 1 MORE (R-Alaska). It was introduced at a news conference with actor Morgan Freeman.

But the shark industry, which supports the ban on finning, says the bill would shut down much of the industry.

Domestic fisherman use more than just the fin, but the fin — usually exported to China for use in soup and other culinary purposes — represents about half the monetary value of the fish, said Shaun Gehan, the lobbyist for the ad-hoc coalition.

“This bill simply takes the U.S. fisherman and pretty much puts him out of business, only to reward our small portion of the international market to the bad actors,” said Gehan, who estimated that U.S. fishermen fulfill about 3 percent of the international market for shark fins.

“It harms the guys who play by the rules, and only rewards those who are doing the very thing the proponents of the bill object to. So it’s very frustrating.”

Shark fishing is a $2.2 million industry in the U.S. and mainly operates on the East and Gulf coasts.

Gehan is a solo practitioner who frequently represents fishing businesses and others involved in animal-related trades.

He says his advocacy has mainly focused on meeting with congressional staff and lawmakers, particularly representing states home to shark fishing like Florida, Louisiana, North Carolina and New Jersey.

He plans to incorporate public outreach as well.

“One of the things that we’re hoping to do ... is to hopefully do a little public education on how the U.S. manages its fisheries and what the issues are,” Gehan said. “Because really, this country’s a model for the world.”

Lora Snyder, a campaign director at Oceana, defended the shark-finning bill, saying it would make it much easier to enforce the ban.

“Once fins are on land, whether they’ve been imported in from countries where there is no finning ban or it’s been done illegally, there’s no way to tell if those fins come from a shark that has been finned,” Snyder said, adding that the fins could even come from endangered sharks, which is always illegal.

Snyder said it’s important for the United States to lead on the issue.

“We know that when the U.S. steps up and leads, others follow,” she said, citing domestic action on ivory as an example.

Oceana is not interested in completely shutting down the practice, Snyder said. Shark fishing would still be legal under the legislation, along with the sale of shark meat.

Gehan and the fish houses maintain that the bill is not the right approach.

The industry says the U.S. could take a major step toward ending shark finning if the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration were to further crack down on imports of shark products from countries that do not go far enough to stop finning in international waters.

Congressional lobbying disclosure firms show that the firm Robertson, Monagle & Eastaugh, representing the Garden State Seafood Association and the Southeastern Fisheries Association, is also lobbying against the shark-finning bill.

SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment Inc. is lobbying in support of the bill, along with two firms it has hired, as well as the firm Cohen & Grisby, which is representing The Florida Aquarium.