Setting our Sights on Sharks. House Passes Shark Conservation Act.

With the hope of protecting the ocean’s most important predator, the US Congress has toughened laws for shark protection and limits loopholes in laws to reduce shark finning. Many species of sharks are facing extinction due to a growing demand for the delicacy shark fin soup.

"Shark finning has fueled massive population declines and irreversible disruption of our oceans," said Senator John Kerry, who championed the bill.

In addition to suffering huge losses as bycatch, scientists estimate that up to 73 million sharks are killed each year around the world for fins alone, leading to declines of over 90 percent of some species of sharks. The high value of shark fin is driving poaching and devastation of shark stocks worldwide.  As apex predators, sharks are vital for marine ecosystem health. Sharks have biological characteristics that make them particularly sensitive to overfishing.

Although the United States banned finning in 2000 and has enforced restrictions on shark landings, several loopholes have remained in the Pacific, and with enforcement at sea. While the law does not ban the killing of sharks, all fins landed in the United States must be attached to an accompanying carcass, with the exception of one compromise on the Smooth Dogfish fishery in the Southeast.

This bill will help reduce a burgeoning and largely undocumented US trade in shark fins. The United States is a major exporter of shark fins. Last year two million dollars of shark fins were exported through the port of Los Angeles alone.

This bill does not ban the sale of shark fin, which is readily available in many upscale Chinese restaurants in the United States, especially here in San Francisco.  Shark fin is readilly available in the Bay Area, including fins from endangered species of sharks.

This legislation sends a message that the United States is concerned about the decline of shark populations and that shark finning is a serious threat to balanced ocean ecosystems.

The next step in shark protection will be to regulate the sourcing and trade of shark fins in the United States to reduce poaching of sharks and killing sharks on the high seas.