Opponents continue push-back against US shark fin ban

A bill proposing to ban the sale and purchase of shark fins across the United States continues to get pushback from advocates who say the bill would end up doing the opposite of what it intends. 

The Shark Fin Sales Elimination Act (H.R. 1456), sponsored by U.S. Representatives Ed Royce (R-California), chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan (I-North Marianas Islands), was introduced back in March. Royce said shutting down the market for shark fins would “Set an example for the rest of the world.”

However, a competing bill, the Sustainable Shark Fisheries and Trade Act (H.R. 5248), has been endorsed by environmental advocates as the better choice environmentally. A coalition of more than 40 organizations, including the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), Association of Zoos and Aquariums, and the International Fund for Animal Welfare, have been actively campaigning to support the passage of the Sustainable Shark Fisheries and Trade Act. 

Ongoing questioning of experts during the legislative process for the shark fin ban has led to some scientists advocating against a complete ban of shark fins. 

“U.S. fishers do not fin their sharks,” wrote Dr. Robert Hueter, director of the Center for Shark Research at Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota, Florida, U.S.A. “So the consequences of this action will be to punish the fishers doing it right — U.S. shark fisheries — and reward the foreign fisheries doing it wrong. That is a terrible message to send the world."

Hueter made the comparison to the historic ban of elephant ivory, which led to decreased trade of the items. In contrast to ivory, where the United States was a sizable chunk of the market, the country is a minor player in the world shirk fin market, representing only 1 percent of sales. 

“In fact, it’s reasonable to conclude that the small market share of shark fins that U.S. fishers currently supply will be taken up by nations fishing sharks unsustainably, probably even finning the sharks,” said Hueter. In the U.S., fishers do not practice “finning” sharks, where the shark’s fins are removed and the rest is discarded at sea – often done while the animal is still alive. 

 “Therefore, in my view the message we will be sending the world if we implement a nationwide, domestic ban of the shark fin trade is this:  The U.S. does not believe in sustainable fishing for sharks, we do not subscribe to the full use doctrine for marine resources as laid out by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, we condemn Asian cultures for their consumption of shark fins even from sustainable shark fisheries, and we are okay with damaging our own domestic fisheries to construct a purely symbolic but misguided and ineffective message for shark conservation,” wrote Hueter. 

In contrast the Sustainable Shark Fisheries and Trade Act would require all countries importing products related to sharks, rays, and skates obtain certification by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Advocates say that would promote sustainability on a wider scale more effectively than a ban on shark fins. 

“This bill recognizes the sacrifices American fishermen have made to rebuild and sustain our shark populations. It encourages other nations wishing to export shark products to the United States to the same high standards for shark, skate, and ray conservation and management we apply to fishermen here,” said Rep. Daniel Webster (R-FL), who sponsored the bill. 


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