World Oceans Day is described as a global celebration of our oceans, but let’s be real: our oceans are facing many problems, from rising sea levels threatening coastal life to oil spills dirtying our coasts, to America’s reversal on its commitment to begin reducing greenhouse gas emissions that are driving ocean acidification and warming that could lead to mass die-offs of countless marine animals.
With challenges like these, it’s easy to feel hopeless. But what if there were a real win we could celebrate this year? Congress is on the verge of passing a bipartisan bill, the Shark Fin Trade Elimination Act, which takes aim at one of the greatest threats to sharks: the global shark fin trade which has led to the practice of shark finning.
The demand for fins drives the act of shark finning - the brutal act of cutting the fins off a live shark and discarding its body at sea to drown, starve or be eaten alive by other fish, a practice illegal in the United States. We consider killing rhinos and elephants for their horns and tusks inhumane, and rightfully, the trade of both is illegal in the United States – so why is selling shark fins still legal in the U.S.?
Sharks are vital to marine ecosystems all over the world. The loss of any one species could be catastrophic, having ripple effects throughout the food chain. Some sharks have even been shown to affect the growth of sea grasses, as the presence of sharks influences the behavior of ocean grazers like dugongs and sea turtles.
Furthermore, more sharks could mean more tourism dollars. A recent Oceana report found that in Florida alone, expenditures from shark diving encounters contributed $221 million to the state’s economy in 2016. Contrast that number with the value of shark fin exports from the entire United States, which was just over $1 million in 2015.
Shark fins are mainly sought after for shark fin soup, a dish that can go for over $100 a bowl. Fins from as many as 73 million sharks end up in the shark fin trade every year. Many of the species targeted for their fins tend to have long lifespans, mature slowly, and produce few young, which makes them slow to recover from overfishing. In fact, of the 14 most common shark species involved in the Hong Kong fin trade, 70 percent are at high or very high risk of extinction, including the scalloped hammerhead and oceanic whitetip.
Although finning is already illegal in U.S. waters, the U.S. still imports fins, some of which come from countries that don’t have any restrictions on finning whatsoever. However, Congress has taken a step toward protecting sharks. On May 18, the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation passed the Shark Fin Trade Elimination Act, which would ban the buying and selling of shark fins in the United States. This legislation would reinforce the U.S. leadership in shark conservation and remove the country from the global fin trade altogether.
This bipartisan bill offers one way that this World Oceans day, you can feel good about helping usher in an obvious win for the oceans. While the bill has strong support, it could use your help getting it over the finish line. You can sign Oceana’s petition telling Congress to pass the ban or directly contact your members of Congress to show your support.
What better way to celebrate World Oceans Day, than to help move something forward that will give us something to celebrate?
Lora Snyder is a campaign director for Oceana.
Campaign director, Oceana