Putting a Stop to Human Attacks on Sharks

U.S. House of Representatives to Take Up Shark Fin Sales Elimination Act Today

It’s news when sharks attack people, perhaps because it’s a relatively rare phenomenon. But it’s never news when people attack sharks. Indeed, if the press covered this category of inter-species violence, there’d be nary a column inch for other news, since these acts of human aggression happen with numbing frequency.

The human toll on sharks is 25 to 75 million a year. Using the higher number, that would be 205,000 attacks by humans on sharks on the high seas every single day. Jaws got it wrong, big time.

The U.S. has a chance to take a bite out of shark finning tomorrow, with the U.S. House taking up the Shark Fin Sales Elimination Act, H.R. 737, introduced by Gregorio Sablan, D-Northern Marianas, and Mike McCaul, R-Tex. This humane measure comes to the floor with more than a few tail kicks propelling it — in fact, the bill has the support of 288 cosponsors, or two-thirds of all House lawmakers. A Senate companion bill, S. 877, by Cory Booker, D-N.J. and Shelly Moore Capito, R-W.V., has already cleared the Commerce Committee and awaits floor action.

The ban on trading in fins is designed to stop the grisly practice in which fishermen catch a shark, hack off the fins for the soup market, then throw the suffering animal back into the ocean to bleed to death, drown, or be ripped apart by other sharks.

Shark finning conjures up cruelty and wanton destruction of the medieval era. But it’s more of a modern evil. Putting an end to it now is our best chance of saving critical shark species from the brink of extinction.

Right now, in fact, almost three-quarters of the most common species of sharks are at risk of vanishing forever.

Without sharks, the balance of our marine ecosystems is thrown off-kilter. Sharks are long-lived and slow to reproduce, and they cannot survive the pressure being placed upon them by finning. Moreover, stopping the slaughter is one of the easiest means of protecting biodiversity in our world and keeping apex predators alive and at work.

Famed oceanographer and explorer Sylvia Earle put it this way in a widely-circulated quotation: “Sharks are beautiful animals, and if you’re lucky enough to see lots of them, that means that you’re in a healthy ocean. You should be afraid if you are in the ocean and don’t see sharks.”

In 2010, Congress passed and the President signed a shark conservation bill. The bill on the floor today slams the door on loopholes by focusing on the trade in shark fins.

It makes good moral sense, and good economic sense. In a recent report, the respected advocacy organization Oceania calculated that shark-encounter scuba diving accounted for $221 million in economic activity and 3,797 jobs in the state of Florida. Scuba divers and dive operations have become important allies in fighting shark finning.

The sad irony is that shark fins are widely reported to be all but tasteless in soup broth. They are said to add “texture,” but primarily they serve as a delicacy and disply of status, often on major occasions, such as weddings or other celebrations.

A phone call to your U.S. Representative in support of H.R. 737 today not only delivers the message of public concern for sharks and oceans, but also celebrates an old-fashioned and now-rare exercise in two-party cooperation. A bipartisan effort, the campaign in Congress to pass the Shark Fin Trade Elimination Act claims supporters across the ideological spectrum, from Democrats Cory Booker and Gregorio Sablan to Republicans Mike McCaul and Mike Braun.

Sharks are in trouble. But we are the only ones who can stop a problem of our own making. We can act to stop the killing of these animals for a piece of their bodies and the most trivial of reasons. If killing elephants for their tusks or rhinos for their horns is wrong, so is killing sharks for their fins. More than a dozen states have adopted policies to forbid the shark fin trade. Now it’s time for Congress to build on its prior good work on the issue.

Please call your U.S. Representative now at 202-225-3121 to ask them to support H.R. 737.  You can also send a message of support to your legislators.

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