Earlier this summer, headlines across the country blasted the news that the federal government was moving to ban sales of any products containing elephant ivory within the United States —strengthening an already-in-place ban on the import of elephant ivory. This decision had a huge amount of support from the American public, as most people understand the devastating effect the global ivory trade has had upon African elephant populations for centuries.
But many people don’t know that there is an equally devastating trade of shark fins around the world, contributing to the population declines of certain shark species, and that fins from sharks facing high risk of extinction can be bought and sold—completely legally—within certain parts of the United States. When most people learn the details of this trade, they say they want it stopped. A recently released national poll found a large amount of support among the American public for a bill banning the trade of shark fins, with 81 percent of registered voters saying they would support the legislation and would like a national ban on shark fins.
It’s estimated that the fins from as many as 73 million sharks make their way into the global trade every year, and the demand for these fins drives the brutal and wasteful practice of shark finning. When a fisherman fins a shark by slicing the fins off of its body, the shark is often still alive. Once the fins are taken, the shark’s body is usually thrown back overboard, where it is left to drown, bleed to death, or be eaten alive by other animals. Indeed, the demand for shark fins is one of the greatest threats facing shark populations around the world, with some populations declining by more than 90 percent in recent decades.
Even though the act of shark finning is banned in U.S. waters, shark fins themselves are still legally bought and sold in 39 U.S. states, often as ingredients in shark fin soup and other products. While some of these fins come from legal U.S. shark fisheries, many others are imported from countries that have little-to-no finning regulations—and there is no way to tell the difference between the two once a fin is separated from a shark.
In June, a group of bipartisan legislators introduced the Shark Fin Trade Elimination Act of 2016, which would address this problem by prohibiting the trade of shark fins nationwide. With a federal ban, the origin of a fin would not matter because there would be no fins entering the U.S. market, legally caught or otherwise.
If the U.S. were to end the trade of shark fins, it would be joining a global movement. In the past 10 years, eight other countries and territories as well as numerous private companies have decided to take a stand for sharks. Hotel chains like Hilton, Marriott, Starwood and Fairmont have all banned shark fin soup, as well as companies like Amazon, Disney, UPS and GrubHub. Numerous airlines have also banned the shipping of fins, such as Virgin Atlantic, Lufthansa, British Airways, American Airlines, Air France and many others. These companies are not just prohibiting fins from countries that allow finning, but also from countries with finning bans. They are doing this because once fins are co-mingled it is impossible to separate the “good” fins from “bad.” And this is the same reason we must ban shark fins within the United States.
The numbers show that when people learn about the global shark fin trade, they overwhelmingly oppose it. Eight in 10 Americans do not want shark fins in the United States—and Congress needs to listen.
Lora Snyder is a campaign director at Oceana, the largest conservation group dedicated solely to ocean conservation.
The views expressed by authors are their own and not the views of The Hill.