In Washington, D.C., these days, when Republicans team up with Democrats for the cause of conservation they deserve a shout-out of support from all of us.
The issue is “shark finning.” That’s the grisly practice where fishermen pull in a shark, hack off the fins for the shark-fin soup market, and then throw the mutilated animal back into the ocean to suffer an agonizing death from bleeding, drowning or predation by other animals.
If we’re going to stop this cruel and wasteful slaughter, Congress needs to hear from us. They need reminding that the American public wants results and cooperation, especially on matters without a whiff of partisanship.
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 the best chance of saving threatened shark species from the brink of extinction at the hands of the planet's most dangerous predator—humans!
That’s right, almost three-quarters of the most common species of shark are at risk of vanishing forever due to human predation.
Without sharks, the balance of our marine ecosystems is thrown off-kilter. That’s a fact of life born out of science and common sense. Sharks are long lived and slow to reproduce, and they simply cannot take the pressure being placed on them by illegal finning. Moreover, stopping the slaughter is one of the easiest means of protecting biodiversity 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.”
Now, in the nick of time, bipartisan groups of Senators and Representatives are pursuing life-saving legislation to prohibit the import, export and trade in shark fins.
If you have followed the issue, you might recall that in 2010, Congress passed and the President signed the Shark Conservation Act to prohibit shark finning. This year’s follow-up slams the door on loopholes by focusing on the trade in shark fins.
At The Humane Society of the United States and Sea World our primary interest is for the animals and for nature’s equilibrium. But there are significant economic reasons that favor saving sharks, too.
The nonprofit group Oceana calculated that shark-encounter scuba diving accounted for $221 million in economic activity in Florida last year and was responsible for 3,797 jobs. Scuba divers and dive operations have become important allies in fighting shark finning.
The sad irony is that shark fins are all but tasteless in soup broth. It’s said to add texture, but it’s mainly served as a culinary status symbol–which claims up to 73 million sharks a year.
In pushing for this policy outcome, the two of us bring to bear years of experience in Washington. We’ve been witnesses to acrimony and political gamesmanship. Here’s an opportunity to provide a different experience for the American public to witness when it comes to national politics–problem-solving and cooperation and a reduction of needless violence in the world.
A phone call or note to Congress not only drives home the message of public concern for sharks and oceans, but also celebrates an old-fashioned and now-rare exercise in two-party cooperation. We’ve got a head start in getting this done, given that The Shark Fin Trade Elimination Act and Shark Fin Sales Elimination Actclaims supporters across the ideological spectrum–from Democrats Cory Booker and Delegate Gregorio Sablan to Republicans Jim Inhofe and Ed Royce.
Sharks are in trouble. But we can act to stop the killing of these animals just for a sliver of their bodies. We know that killing elephants for ivory and rhinos for their horns is wrong. The same is true for sharks and their fins.
Eleven states and all three Pacific territories have shown their leadership by banishing the shark fin trade from their jurisdictions. Now it’s time for the United States Congress to add our voice and leadership by doubling-down and taking this simple but crucial step.
Wayne Pacelle is the president and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States.
Joel Manby is president and CEO of SeaWorld.