Amongst the Tax Bill, Start1 nuclear weapon treaty, Don’t Ask Don’t Tell and the other legislation Congress is trying to pass during this lame duck session, is a win for wildlife.
Rarely does the Senate pass unanimous legislation, but it did so to end the cruel, wasteful practice of shark finning in U.S. It was also passed by the House.
Driven by demand in Asia for shark fin soup, the shark population is being decimated as fisherman cut off their fins and leave them to slowly die at sea. The practice was banned by the Shark Finning Prohibition Act of 2000, but hasn’t been successful because shark fins get a much higher price than shark meat.
Sharks are severely threatened worldwide because of finning — there are estimated to be as few as 3,500 Great Whites left in the wild, and many other species are declining rapidly as well.
The Shark Conservation Act, introduced by Sen. John Kerry (D-MA), strengthens the law by requiring all vessels that catch sharks to bring them to land in tact, which will greatly simply enforcement efforts.
Because of the high value of shark fins, non-fishing vessels have traveled outside U.S. waters in the Pacific Ocean, purchased fins from shark fishermen and then landed them in U.S. ports. The new prohibition on transferring or transporting fins without the carcass attached will close a loophole which allowed non-fishing vessels to land fins without the shark bodies.
To improve international efforts to protect sharks, the Shark Conservation Act of 2009 amends the High Seas Driftnet Fishing Moratorium Protection Act to require the Secretary of Commerce to identify and list nations that have not adopted a regulatory program for shark conservation comparable to the US. This new provision promotes the conservation of sharks internationally and in a manner that is consistent with the expectations placed on U.S. fishermen.
Sen. Tom Coburn (R-OK) had blocked the bill because it would cost taxpayer money. The five-year, $5 million cost has now been offset by cutting that amount from a federal fisheries grant program over the next two years.