WASHINGTON, D.C.—Following the example of the Northern Marianas and 14 other U.S. states and territories, the U.S. House of Representatives approved yesterday legislation that bans buying or selling shark fins nationwide. The bill passed on a vote of 310-107.
Delegate Gregorio Kilili Ca. Sablan (Ind-MP) introduced the Shark Fin Sales Elimination Act, H.R. 737, in January. Over the next 10 months, Sablan collected 287 cosponsors, the largest number for an ocean conservation bill so far in this Congress. He was joined in the effort by Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas). Numerous conservation organizations supported the legislation, along with 45 domestic and international airlines, 21 shipping companies, and more than 645 other U.S. businesses and organizations.
Fins from an estimated 73 million sharks are sliced off and sold in the global marketplace each year. And, largely due to this demand for fins, some shark species have now declined by more than 90%.
“Sharks are absolutely critical to the health of the oceans,” Sablan explained during debate on the House floor yesterday. “As apex predators, they help maintain the balance of life by keeping prey populations in check.”
Sharks are also critical to the tourism economy of many coastal communities, Sablan said. “In Florida alone, tourists, who go diving to see sharks, generate more than 200 times the value of the trade in shark fins for our entire country.”
It is already illegal in the U.S. to take sharks solely for their fins. But because fins can still be imported for sale, the U.S. remains a contributor to the international trade.
“The survival of these majestic creatures is of great importance and this bill will help ensure they are around for decades to come,” McCaul said. “I am proud to work alongside colleagues who have taken a stand against this atrocity [of shark finning].”
Eliminating that trade has been a priority for conservation advocates for years; and they praised yesterday’s vote. “Oceana applauds the House for passing this important legislation,” said Whitney Webber, director of the group’s shark campaign. “Now it’s time for the Senate to do the same.”
The president of the Humane Society Legislative Fund, Sara Amundson, echoed those sentiments. “We thank [Reps.] Sablan and McCaul for introducing this important piece of legislation. By passing the Shark Fin Sales Elimination Act, the U.S. House of Representatives has taken a significant step toward eliminating extinction of these remarkable creatures.”
“Sharks have existed for hundreds of millions of years on this planet, and yet these remarkable apex predators now face one of the biggest threats to their survival because of the demand for their fins,” said Cathy Liss, president of the Animal Welfare Institute.
“We are grateful to [Reps.] Sablan and McCaul for their steadfast leadership and urge the Senate to quickly pass the Shark Fin Sales Elimination Act, so that it can be signed into law.”
The shark fin act was one of nine bipartisan, conservation bills the House passed yesterday. “Each piece of legislation represents the tireless work of the sponsor and the hope of the communities who will be impacted,” said Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Arizona), chair of the Natural Resources Committee, which had jurisdiction over the legislation.
“From banning selling shark fins to protecting wetlands, I will continue advancing Democratic priorities that make a positive impact on the health and wellbeing of our planet,” Grijalva said.
Sablan thanked McCaul, Grijalva, and all 310 members who voted for his bill. “However, the work is not over,” he said. “The Senate must also act to pass this critical bill and get it to the President’s desk so we can finally get our country out of the devastating global shark fin trade.”
According to a statement from Animal Wellness Action, Sens. Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Shelly Moore Capito (R-WV) also introduced a companion bill that the Senate Commerce Committee has already approved.
“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 ecotourism and shark-diving experiences throughout the world.” (PR, Saipan Tribune)