Ever since the movie “Jaws” came out over 40 years ago, the iconic image of a shark fin menacingly gliding through the water has inspired fear and panic in the public mind. But what many people may not realize is that, in reality, that shark swimming through the water is in much more danger from humans than we are from it.
Worldwide, sharks are under attack – from humans. The global shark fin trade, responsible for the deaths of millions of sharks every year, leads to the brutal and wasteful practice of shark finning. A shark is caught and brought to the surface, its fins are sliced off, often while the animal is still alive, and then the body thrown back overboard to drown, bleed to death or be eaten alive by other animals. 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.
Shark finning has been illegal in U.S. waters since 2000, but the fins of legally caught sharks can still be sold and more importantly thousands of pounds of fins are still imported into the U.S. and can be bought and sold throughout most of the country, mostly used as the main ingredient in shark fin soup, which can sell for upwards of hundreds of dollars.
While some of these fins come from legal U.S. shark fisheries, 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.
Fortunately, leaders in Congress have decided to take the next step for shark conservation, and have introduced the bipartisan Shark Fin Trade Elimination Act, which would ban the buying and selling of fins nationwide. Existing U.S. shark fisheries would continue to operate under this bill, but would only be able to sell the meat of edible sharks. The Senate Commerce Committee is set to vote on the legislation this Thursday – and if our representatives truly wish to listen to the will of the people and businesses, they will move this bill forward.
Already 11 U.S. states have passed state bans on the trade of fins – and private businesses and companies are flocking to do the same. Other supporters of a national ban on shark fins include 402 businesses, 129 non-profits, nine aquariums and multiple recreational fishing interests. In fact, an independent poll last year (commissioned by Oceana) found that eight in 10 Americans support a national ban on the buying and selling of shark fins.
Not only is there widespread support domestically for this bill, but if passed, the U.S. would be joining a global movement against shark fins. The Chinese government has stopped serving shark fin soup at official functions, and last month, four Chinese airlines publically agreed not to transport fins. Worldwide, over 30 airlines and 19 shipping companies come out against shark fins, including American Airlines, British Airways, Air France, UPS and others. Corporations like Amazon, Disney, GrubHub and Hilton Worldwide have also stepped up their corporate leadership and banned fins.
And it is not only shark populations that would benefit. Shark tourism is a growing industry – in fact, an independent study commissioned by Oceana showed that the value of shark-related diving in Florida generated over $221 million in 2016. This stands in stark contrast with the value of shark fin exports for the entire U.S. at just over one million in 2015. Just last week, over 100 dive-business owners from the state of Florida sent a letter to Congress urging support for the Shark Fin Trade Elimination Act.
The United States has a unique position of influence in the world; when we take action, other countries follow. This piece of legislation represents an opportunity to reinforce the status of the United States as a leader in shark conservation and would remove the U.S. from the trade entirely.
The American public knows that shark fins have no place in the United States, and it is time for Congress to listen.
Snyder is Oceana campaign director.
The views expressed by this author are their own and are not the views of The Hill.