Washington, DC—The Animal Welfare Institute (AWI) is pleased to report that President Barack Obama signed the Shark Conservation Act into law. Both the Senate and the House of Representatives passed the bill in the last days of the 111th Congress, approving the long-awaited measure by unanimous consent. The president’s signature makes the law official.
AWI and other shark advocates have been pushing for passage of this law - which represents a giant step forward for shark conservation - since it was originally introduced in the House in January 2009 by Representative Madeleine Bordallo (D-GU) and in the Senate in April by Senator John Kerry (D-MA). Following its passage, Senator Kerry issued a statement: “Shark finning has fueled massive population declines and irreversible disruption of our oceans. Finally we’ve come through with a tough approach to tackle this serious threat to our marine life.”
The Shark Conservation Act will curb the practice of shark finning, by which living sharks’ fins are sliced off and their mutilated bodies thrown back into the ocean, where the sharks endure long, painful deaths. Shark finning kills an estimated 73 million sharks each year, driven by the demand for shark fin soup.
In 2000, President Bill Clinton signed the Shark Finning Prohibition Act, making it unlawful to possess a shark fin in US waters without a corresponding carcass. Loopholes in the ban, however, prevented effective enforcement, and finning continued. As a countermeasure, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration issued regulations in 2008 mandating that sharks must be landed with fins attached in the Atlantic, Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico, but not the Pacific. The Shark Conservation Act extends this requirement to all US waters, and prohibits the transfer of shark fins at sea.
“Thankfully, now the US has an enforceable finning ban,” said AWI’s president, Cathy Liss. “Requiring that sharks be landed with their fins attached is the only way to truly enforce a prohibition on finning and we hope that other countries will follow suit.”
The law includes an exemption for smooth dogfish sharks, for which a small fishery exists in North Carolina, primarily targeting the fish for meat. The exemption will allow these few fishermen to continue to separate fins of this species from carcasses at sea to conserve space on their boats. These fishermen will be responsible for demonstrating that the fins on their boat belong to the carcasses.
“We applaud President Obama and this bill’s champions for their leadership in passing this landmark law,” Liss added. “Though we are disappointed that the law does not include a blanket ban on the removal of all shark fins at sea, it clearly signals that the US is committed to ending the cruel and wasteful practice of shark finning.”