WASHINGTON— In a long-awaited victory for sharks across the globe, the Shark Fin Sales Elimination Act passed the U.S. Senate Thursday night by a vote of 83-11 as part of the National Defense Authorization Act (H.R. 7776). This critical measure prohibits the commercial trade of shark fins and products containing shark fins in the United States. The legislative package, which passed the U.S. House of Representatives last week, now goes to President Joe Biden for his signature.
It is a monumental triumph. Even though sharks are vital to ocean health, tens of millions of them worldwide are killed every year for their fins to be used in shark fin soup, considered a delicacy and status symbol by some Asian cultures. Many of the fins sold are obtained through a process called finning, in which the fins are cut off live sharks on board vessels at sea, after which the mutilated animals are thrown back in the water to die from blood loss, predation, or starvation. Although shark finning is prohibited in U.S. waters, the market for fins in the United States incentivizes finning in international waters and the territorial waters of countries lacking protective policies or enforcement.
Shark populations around the world are decreasing, some by more than 90%, and the shark fin trade is one of the main causes. The decimation of sharks harms the marine environment, as they serve an important role by maintaining ecological balance in oceans. Seventeen states and three U.S. territories have banned or restricted the intrastate sale of shark fins, but instituting a federal framework is critical as fins imported and sold in the U.S. can come from endangered or threatened shark species, or from sharks that were finned.
First introduced in 2016, standalone Shark Fin Sales Elimination Act bills were sponsored in the Senate (S. 1106) by Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., and Sen. Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va., and in the House (H.R. 2811) by Del. Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan, D-Northern Mariana Islands, and Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Texas. After passing the House in the 116th Congress, the shark fin bill first passed both the House and Senate earlier in the 117th Congress as a provision in a much larger bill, called the U.S. Innovation and Competition Act (S. 1260) in the Senate and the America COMPETES Act (H.R. 4521) in the House. However, this bill and many others were not included in the final law. At long last, the Shark Fin Sales Elimination Act has crossed its last hurdle before being signed into law.
“Today is a major victory for sharks. Oceana has campaigned to protect sharks as the demand for fins has continued to put them at risk. We are more than elated that ending the shark fin trade in the U.S. is on its way to becoming law. For too long, millions of sharks have been slaughtered for their fins, driving them toward extinction. This historic bill bans the buying and selling of shark fins in the United States, thereby removing our country from the global shark fin trade. We are grateful to all the hardworking House and Senate leaders for championing this bill and getting it over the finish line once and for all,” said Oceana’s vice president for the United States, Beth Lowell.
“Sharks are worth more alive than in a bowl of soup. The shark fin trade, and wildlife trafficking broadly, have menacing implications not just for animal welfare and conservation, but also for global security, given the corrupt and destabilizing influence of the criminal networks involved,” said Sara Amundson, president of Humane Society Legislative Fund. “The NDAA’s inclusion of this measure to end U.S. commerce in shark fins supports our nation’s strategic defense, enhancing the protection of wild animals and the establishment of a safer and better world for us all.”
“This is a monumental and long-awaited win for shark species and marine ecosystems across the globe,” said Susan Millward, executive director of the Animal Welfare Institute. “These remarkable apex predators have existed for hundreds of millions of years, yet the global demand for shark fins has contributed to the decimation of shark populations in just a few decades. The passage of the Shark Fin Sales Elimination Act removes the United States as a major transit hub of shark fins, and reaffirms the United States’ leadership in shark conservation.”
“This victory is the capstone of almost a decade of work to pass federal legislation to end the United States’ participation in the cruel and ecologically damaging global shark fin trade,” said Kitty Block, president and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States. “We owe so much gratitude to Sens. Booker and Capito, and Reps. Sablan and McCaul, for leading the charge to protect these important animals who are vital to the health of ocean ecosystems.”