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May 17, 2012

Illinois Senate Takes Historic Steps to Protect Sharks

Environmental and animal welfare groups applaud passage of House Bill 4119.

The Center for Oceanic Awareness, Research, and Education, Inc; The Natural Resources Defense Council

The Center for Oceanic Awareness, Research, and Education (COARE), The Humane Society of the United States, Humane Society International, and Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) applaud the Illinois State Senate for passing a new bill to end Illinois' contribution to the dire collapse of shark populations worldwide.  If enacted, Illinois will join four Pacific states – California, Hawaii, Oregon and Washington – and the U.S. territories of Guam and Northern Mariana Islands in similar actions to provide critical protection to sharks and preserve the health of the world's ocean ecosystems by banning the possession, sale, trade, and distribution of shark fins.

House Bill 4119, sponsored by Rep. Sara Feigenholtz (D-Chicago) and Sen. Antonio Muñoz (D-Chicago), passed the House of Representatives on March 8 with a vote of 81-33.  The bill today passed the Senate with a vote of 41-13, and now moves on to the governor for action.

"I'm pleased that the Illinois Senate has echoed the House of Representatives' support of this important bill," said Rep. Feigenholtz, who introduced the bill in January.  "The Senate's incredibly decisive vote reflects the urgency of the need for shark conservation."

"I'm delighted that Illinois can take part in the worldwide movement to protect these important creatures," said Senator Antonio Muñoz, the bill's Senate sponsor.  "We're grateful for organizations like COARE, The Humane Society of the United States, and NRDC, which have done a wonderful job educating legislators, constituents, and stakeholders alike."

“The unsustainable demand for shark fins has had a devastating impact on shark populations worldwide, and the legislature’s action makes clear that Illinois will no longer contribute to the cruelty,” said Kristen Strawbridge, Illinois state director for The HSUS.  “We hope Governor Quinn will quickly sign this bill into law and make Illinois the first Midwestern state to join the international movement to protect sharks by shutting down the market for shark fins.”

"This is a bold, but very necessary and natural step," said Christopher Chin, COARE's executive director.  "Sharks have shaped ocean ecosystems for more than 400 million years, but we've pushed many of them to the brink of extinction just in our lifetimes.  This new law reflects the importance of our ocean's fragile resources to everyone, including those thousands of miles from the shore."

"Illinois is nowhere near a coast, but this step from the General Assembly means we are doing our part to ensure healthy oceans.  Now it's time for the coastal states to step up so we are all working in concert to end shark finning across the country and abroad," said Nick Magrisso, legislative advocate for NRDC.

Every year, up to 73 million sharks are killed, tens of millions for their fins alone.  The fins are used for shark fin soup, a luxury dish sometimes served at Chinese weddings and banquets.  This soup has grown in popularity, increasing consumer demand for shark fins and contributing to the decimation of shark populations worldwide.  As a result of these fishing pressures, one-third of open ocean sharks are already threatened with extinction.

Animals at the top of the food chain, such as sharks, have few natural predators, so they are slow to mature, and have very few young.  As a result, they are extremely sensitive to fishing pressures, and are slow to recover from overfishing.  As sharks play a vital role in the oceans, their depletion could cause irreparable damage to marine ecosystems.

Illinois provides one of the largest markets for shark fins in the United States.  This legislation represents a significant step towards reducing pressure on rapidly declining shark populations.

Media contacts:

Christopher Chin, COARE, 510-495-7875, media@coare.org

Stephanie Twining, The HSUS, 301-258-1491, stwining@hsus.org

Josh Mogerman, NRDC, 312-651-7909, jmogerman@nrdc.org

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