Senate Acts to Protect Sharks

Monday, December 20, 2010
Washington, D.C.
Today the Senate unanimously passed legislation that when enacted will finally put a definitive end to the cruel and wasteful practice of shark finning in U.S. waters and encourage other nations to do the same.  Shark finning, the inhumane practice of removing fins from sharks and discarding the carcass at sea, was banned by the Shark Finning Prohibition Act of 2000.  That law also required fishermen who removed fins at sea to retain and land the corresponding shark carcass.  Unfortunately due to some loopholes in that law, the finning ban has been only partially successful.

The Shark Conservation Act, introduced by Sen. John Kerry (D-MA), would strengthen the 2000 finning law by requiring fishermen to land all sharks with their fins naturally attached to their bodies.  The bill also clarifies that any vessel landing shark fins, not just fishing vessels, must do so with them naturally attached to the carcass.

“This is a tremendous victory in the fight to protect shark populations from depletion and from the abuse they have been suffering at the hands of shark finners,” said Fred O’Regan, President of the International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW www.ifaw.org). “Thanks to the leadership of Senator Kerry and his work for over a decade, great strides have been made to ensure that sharks are kept safe in our waters.”

“We can be proud that today Congress stood up and protected sharks from this cruel and wasteful slaughter,” O’Regan said.

Conservationists, scientists and enforcement agencies agreed that a stronger approach was necessary to enforce a comprehensive shark finning ban and to collect data needed to monitor declining shark populations. The fins-attached landing policy will greatly simplify law enforcement efforts.  Because of the value of shark fins, non-fishing vessels have traveled outside U.S. waters in the Pacific Ocean, purchased fins from shark fishermen and then landed them in U.S. ports.  The new prohibition on transferring or transporting fins without the carcass attached will close the existing loophole which allowed non-fishing vessels to land fins without the shark bodies.

Lastly, and to improve international efforts to protect sharks, the Shark Conservation Act of 2009 amends the High Seas Driftnet Fishing Moratorium Protection Act to require the Secretary of Commerce to identify and list nations that have not adopted a regulatory program for the conservation of sharks comparable to the United States. This new provision promotes the conservation of sharks internationally and in a manner that is consistent with the expectations placed on U.S. fishermen.

Federal regulators have taken steps to require sharks to be landed with their fins attached along the Atlantic seaboard, but similar requirements have not been contemplated in the Pacific.  The legislation passed today would ensure a consistent policy in all U.S. waters.

“More than half of all shark species are in danger of disappearing, which could have drastic and complex repercussions for marine ecosystems,” said Jeffrey Flocken, Washington, DC Office Director of IFAW. “Ensuring sharks are better protected from finning in both the Atlantic and Pacific Oceans is a strong step to ensuring the survival of these critical species.”

The Shark Conservation Act will now be sent to the House for a vote where upon passage it will then make its way onto the President’s desk.

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