US House passes bill banning sale of shark fins

A bill that prohibits people from selling or buying shark fins cleared its first hurdle in Congress last week.

H.R. 737, sponsored by U.S. Rep. Gregorio Sablan (D-Northern Mariana Islands) and co-sponsored by U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas), passed 310-107 on Wednesday 20 November.

In a statement, Sablan said the measure would help get the United States out of the business of trading shark fins.

“Our legislation is an effective, no-cost way to remove the United States from the harmful shark fin trade that contributes to the loss of up to 73 million sharks each year,” he said. “Three territories and a dozen states already have a ban in their laws. It’s high time the House has joined them, and it is my hope the Senate quickly acts so we can end our contribution to the global trade of shark fins.”

While the Shark Conservation Act prevents removing a shark’s fin on ships in U.S. waters, it does not prevent the people from buying or selling fins that were removed elsewhere. Because of that, some species of shark are facing heightened mortality rates.

With sharks serving as a top predator in the marine food chain, finning also presents ecological issues.

“We shouldn’t kill elephants for their ivory, rhinos for their horns, or sharks for their fins,” said Wayne Pacelle, founder of Animal Wellness Action. “It is wasteful and barbaric, it imperils species and ecosystem health, and it degrades marine-based eco-tourism and shark-diving experiences throughout the world.”

The bill does make some exceptions, such as if the fin is used solely for display in a museum or university. There is also an exemption for dogfish.

Those who violate face civil penalties of up to USD 100,000 (EUR 90,757) per incident.

The federal bill now heads to the Senate, where a companion bill filed previously by U.S. Sen. Cory Booker (D-New Jersey) and U.S. Sen. Shelley Moore Capito (R-West Virginia). That bill is currently in the Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee, which will also hear Sablan’s bill.

The bill does face some opposition, specifically from the Garden State Seafood Association in New Jersey. The group believes if the bill becomes law, it would lead to the end of the country’s legal shark fishing trade.

A similar bill passed in the New Jersey state legislature on Monday, 25 November.

"All this legislation does is to penalize legitimate, hard-working fishermen of the state," GSSA Executive Director Greg DiDomenico said in a statement. "Instead of acknowledging the leadership of our commercial industry, which operates a globally recognized sustainable shark fishery, those supporting this legislation will penalize New Jersey fishermen, forcing them to discard a natural resource for no purpose."  

Photo courtesy of Lano Lan/Shutterstock


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