Shark trade bill gains industry, conservationist support

A new bipartisan bill introduced to the U.S. House of Representatives on 13 March would require new certifications for countries importing shark, ray, and skate parts and products to the United States. 

H.R. 5248, 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. Certification would require evidence that the country has conservation policies, management, and enforcement in place that is comparable to similar programs in the U.S.

The bill was introduced to the house by Rep. Daniel Webster (R-FL) and Rep. Ted Lieu (D-CA) along with co-sponsors Rep. Gus Bilirakis (R-FL), Rep. William Lacy Clay (D-MO), Rep. Walter Jones (R-NC), Rep. Bill Posey (R-FL), and Rep. Darren Soto (D-FL). The goal, according to Webster and Lieu, is to promote the science-based regulations the U.S. has had in place for years while leveling the playing field between U.S. fisherman and their overseas competition. 

“Fishing is a long-standing profession and treasured American pastime, and particularly important in Florida,” Webster said.  “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.”

The bill has already garnered supporters from within the industry. Bob Jones, the executive director of the Southeastern Fisheries Association, said the bill represents “A better way forward.”

“This legislation goes a long way toward combating the threats facing global shark stocks by promoting the successful model of American shark management,” he said. 

Other industry supporters include the Garden State Seafood Association, Directed Sustainable Fisheries, and the North Carolina Fisheries Association. 

Conservation groups also support the bill. 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 begun a campaign to support the passage of the Sustainable Shark Fisheries and Trade Act. 

“This legislation would help promote the sustainable management of shark fisheries globally by ensuring that all shark, ray and skate products entering U.S. markets come from fisheries with comparable conservation and management practices,” said a statement signed by representatives of each organization. “This approach serves a valuable dual purpose – improving the global management of these fisheries while leveling the playing field for U.S. commercial fishermen.”

According to the WCS, statistics indicate that the global trade of shark, ray, and skate products is approaching USD 1 billion (EUR 816 million) in value. In 2011, global trade in shark, ray, and skate parts and products was valued at USD 438 million (EUR 357 million) for fins, and close to USD 380 million (EUR 310 million) for meat. In many countries, the shark, ray, and skate fisheries are subject to little oversight, something the WCS said it hopes the Sustainable Shark Fisheries and Trade Act could help change. 

“This bill is a bipartisan solution that both conservationists and the fishing industry can agree upon,” WCS Executive Vice President of Public Affairs John Calvelli said. “The incentives laid out by the legislation can create a ripple effect that can make all the world’s oceans a better home for sharks, rays, and skates.”


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