Less than 15 days left this Congress to help sharks

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People are obsessed with sharks. Beachgoers and scientists, filmmakers and conservationists, divers and armchair adventurers – all are awed by the ferocious charisma of these top predators. Yet despite their speed and power, sharks are largely defenseless against an insatiable appetite for their fins, used primarily for shark fin soup, which is considered a delicacy in some parts of the world, despite being essentially tasteless. However right now, there is an opportunity in Congress to make a real, significant difference for sharks – but we have less than a month to do it.

The demand for shark fins fuels the incredibly brutal practice of shark finning – slicing the fins off a shark, often still alive, and dumping the body overboard to bleed to death. This practice is one of the greatest threats facing shark populations around the world – fins from as many as 73 million sharks end up in the global market every year, with some coming from species that are considered at high risk of extinction.

{mosads}The threat to sharks is a big concern for everyone who relies on healthy oceans. Not only do sharks serve critical roles in balancing marine ecosystems as top predators, they also play an important role in our country’s coastal economies. Shark-based tourism is a booming industry, as more and more divers seek to experience the thrill of swimming with these magnificent creatures. So much so, that shark-related dives in Florida in 2016 alone generated more than $221 million in direct expenditures and fueled over 3,700 jobs. In contrast, the total U.S. shark fin export market that year was a mere $850,000.

But shark tourism depends on healthy shark populations, and unfortunately, right now, many shark species, such as great hammerheads and oceanic whitetips, are in trouble. If sharks disappear, so too could the jobs that depend on healthy ocean ecosystems. As long as sharks swim in our waters, divers and their dollars will follow, supporting local economies.

While shark finning is illegal in U.S. waters, the trade of shark fins in the U.S. is not. Fins from many countries with no finning regulations are still imported into the U.S. every year. The only way to remove the United States from this brutal market would be an outright ban on the trade of shark fins in our country.

Many members of Congress have the same idea. In fact, there is a bipartisan bill with overwhelming support in the U.S. House and Senate to ban the buying and selling of fins, removing the United States once and for all from this terrible trade. The Shark Fin Sales Elimination Act (S.793/H.R.1456) is co-sponsored by nearly 300 members of the House and Senate, including 11 committee chairs. Yet, it still has not been brought up for a full vote in either chamber. If it doesn’t pass this year, the clock runs out and we have to start the legislative process all over next year.

A national ban on the trade of shark fins would make it illegal to buy and sell shark fins in all states and prohibit interstate shipping of fins. It would not only remove the United States from the global fin trade and encourage other countries to do the same; it would also ensure that our businesses dependent on sharks continue to thrive.

Support for a trade ban on shark fins is not limited to just one industry or region. Twelve states, 40 airlines, 20 shipping companies, 85 surfers and surf businesses, 150 scientists, over 150 chefs, and more than 645 U.S. organizations and businesses oppose the U.S. shark fin trade. According to a 2016 national poll, so do 8 in 10 Americans.

Congress has less than 15 days to pass this bill. House leaders have an opportunity to make this win for sharks a reality and show the American people that Congress can pull together to get things done.

To protect sharks, we need to end the trade of shark fins. That process begins here at home. It is time for Congress to demonstrate the leadership of the United States and pass this important legislation.

Andrew Sharpless is the CEO of Oceana, the world’s largest ocean conservation organization. Louis Bacon is the Chief Executive Officer of Moore Capital Management and Founder and chairman of The Moore Charitable Foundation.


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