Way back in the 2nd of March this year, the U.S. House of Representatives passed H.R. 81, the Shark Conservation Act. This legislation would amend previously existing laws (the High Seas Driftnet Fishing Moratorium Protection Act and the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act), to outlaw the practice of shark finning.
Shark finning consists of catching a shark or related species, cutting off the fin and then throwing the rest of the shark back into the ocean, to float down to the bottom and die. It’s an obscenely wasteful process, with a huge amount of usable material – shark skin, meat and cartilage, just tossed overboard. Fishing operations that engage in this practice are seeking easy high profit, selling shark fins to be made into shark fin soup, a luxury food item for which some people will pay a very high price.
Shark finning is much more than just an aesthetic problem. It’s part of a worldwide marine ecological crisis. Sharks are among the top predators in the oceans, and when top predators are removed, food webs come unraveled. Shark populations all over the globe are in severe decline, thanks to practices like shark finning.
So, was the problem addressed when the House passed the Shark Conservation Act? Sadly, no. In order for Congress to pass a law, a bill has to be passed by both houses of Congress, and then approved by the President.
The Shark Conservation Act has been sitting, waiting, in the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation for most of 2009. Finally, in mid November, the committee considered the legislation and reported on it favorably. However, the bill has yet to make it to the Senate floor, and could still be voted down.
Only one in four members of the U.S. Senate have signed on as cosponsors to the Shark Conservation Act. Here’s what you can do: See if the names of your two U.S. Senators are included on this list. If they aren’t, give them a call through the congressional switchboard at (202) 224-3121, and ask them to sign on to S. 850, the Senate version of the Shark Conservation Act.