March 2, 2009
HSI, The HSUS Applaud US House for Protecting Sharks
WASHINGTON — Humane Society International and The Humane Society of the United States applaud the U.S. House of Representatives for its decision Monday to increase protection for sharks, one of the most vulnerable groups of species in the ocean.
The Shark Conservation Act (H.R. 81), introduced by House Insular Affairs, Oceans and Wildlife Subcommittee Chairwoman Madeleine Z. Bordallo, D-Guam, makes it illegal to remove the fins from a shark at sea. Identical language was passed by the House last year, but the companion bill did not have a chance to be considered by the Senate before the session adjourned.
Each year, tens of millions of sharks worldwide have their fins brutally hacked off — often while still alive — and are thrown back overboard. This practice, known as shark "finning," is a space-saving measure: the low-value meat takes up too much freezer space while the fins take up little space and fetch high prices on East Asian markets. Because of the increasing demand for shark fin soup, United States and foreign fleets have profited from finning huge numbers of sharks. Since shark fins take up little space, there is no natural limit on the number of sharks being caught.
"Shark populations simply cannot withstand this level of pressure," said Patricia Forkan, president of HSI. "The Shark Conservation Act represents a huge step forward in the regulation of our shark fisheries and will enable the U.S. to lead the way in the global effort to conserve these vulnerable species. We applaud Chairwoman Bordallo for her work in getting this important bill passed."
The new act closes two major loopholes in the Shark Finning Prohibition Act of 2000. Vessels are no longer permitted to transport fins from finned sharks, even if they were simply transshipped from another vessel. The second loophole allowed fishers to remove the fins from sharks, but the weight of the fins was not permitted to exceed 5 percent of the weight of the carcasses when landed. While designed to prevent finning, this in fact allowed a great deal of room for cheating. The new clause that requires all sharks to be landed with their fins attached will make cheating impossible.
Conservationists are increasingly concerned that many shark species are being decimated around the world as a result of finning, overfishing and the lack of management of shark fisheries at the national, regional and global level.
- Recent studies in the Northwest Atlantic have shown steep declines in shark populations, particularly among highly migratory species. Since 1986, hammerheads have declined by 89 percent, thresher sharks by 80 percent, white sharks by 79 percent and tiger sharks by 65 percent. All recorded shark species in the region, with one exception, have declined by more than 50 percent in the past eight to 15 years. It is highly likely that similar results will be seen across the world's oceans.
- Reported global trade in shark fins increased from 3,011 metric tons in 1980 to 11,732 metric tons in 2000. Much of the trade is unreported because many fins do not pass through normal landing channels and because most of the fin trade is conducted in cash to avoid tax and duties.
- Research in Hong Kong found that dried fins sold for as much as US $744 per kilogram in 2002. Research carried out in 2003 notes that dried shark fins in China retailed for US $200 to 300 per kilogram. In producer countries such as Costa Rica and Colombia, fishers are paid US $12 to 17 per kilogram for their fins.
- Shark fin soup can cost up to US $150 per serving in Hong Kong, but there are worrying signs of a new market opening up for lower-quality fins, allowing millions more people to buy products such as shark fin sushi, shark fin cookies, shark fin cat food and canned shark fin soup.
- Shark fin consists of collagen fiber and has no taste. Flavor is imparted to the soup by the addition of chicken or fish stock.
- Sharks are not ordinary fish. They take many years to mature, have long gestation periods and give birth to live young — or lay eggs — in very small numbers. In some cases of severe overfishing, recovery of the stock, if possible at all, would take decades. The "boom and bust" pattern of shark fisheries has been repeated all over the world wherever sharks have been targeted.
Humane Society International is the international arm of The Humane Society of the United States, one of the world's largest animal protection organizations — backed by 11 million people. HSI is creating a better future for animals and people through advocacy, education, and hands-on programs. Celebrating animals and confronting cruelty worldwide — On the web at hsi.org.