Today, the U.S. Senate passed the James M. Inhofe National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2023, which includes a ban on the buying and selling of shark fins in the United States, among other ocean conservation provisions. The bill also provides the U.S. government with more tools to address illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing. The bipartisan shark fin bill was introduced by Representatives Gregorio Sablan (D-NMI) and Michael McCaul (R-TX) and Senators Cory Booker (D-NJ) and Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV). Oceana also applauds House and Senate leadership as the National Defense Authorization Act heads to President Biden’s desk to be signed into law.
“It’s a great day for sharks. Today’s Senate approval of the National Defense Authorization Act finally takes the United States out of the deadly global shark fin trade, banning the buying and selling of shark fins in the U.S. The worldwide demand for shark fins is driving many shark populations toward extinction, with the fins from up to 73 million sharks ending up in the global fin trade every year. This bill will also help to fight illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing by giving the U.S. more tools to take action against countries that fail to address these devastating and destructive practices in their fleets. We look forward to President Biden’s timely signature on this historic bipartisan bill,” said Oceana’s vice president for the United States, Beth Lowell.
Background on U.S. Shark Fin Trade:
A study published in Nature last year found that global oceanic shark and ray populations have declined by more than 70% over the last 50 years, with overfishing as the primary cause.
The demand for shark fins incentivizes overfishing and shark finning, the cruel and wasteful practice of removing a shark’s fins at sea and throwing its body back overboard where it drowns, starves to death, or is eaten alive by other fish. Fins from as many as 73 million sharks end up in the global market every year. Just as rhino and elephant populations have declined due to the demand for their horns and tusks, the shark fin trade is jeopardizing the continued survival of many shark populations.
Although shark finning is illegal in U.S. waters, fins can still be bought and sold throughout much of the United States. These fins are often imported from countries that have inadequate protections in place for sharks such as China, which still allows shark finning to take place in its waters. Not only are there fins from finned sharks in the U.S. marketplace, but the United States is also providing an economic incentive for other countries to fish for sharks in ways that are illegal in U.S. waters.
According to a poll released by Oceana in 2020, nearly 9 in 10 registered American voters oppose the practice of shark finning, and almost 80% support legislation to ban the sale and trade of shark fins throughout the United States.
As of today, 13 states, more than 45 airlines, 15 major corporations (including Amazon, Hilton, and Disney), and 22 shipping companies have refused to transport or trade shark fins. Nearly 700 businesses — including more than 100 dive shops and scuba businesses, several aquariums, and SeaWorld Parks and Entertainment — support a national fin ban. Other support includes more than 150 scientists, 150 chefs, 140 fishermen, and 85 surfers, and surf businesses.
Background on Illegal Fishing:
In the United States, up to 85% of the fish we consume is imported. A report by the International Trade Commission found that the United States imported $2.4 billion worth of seafood derived from illegal, unreported, and unregulated (IUU) fishing in 2019. IUU fishing can include fishing without authorization, ignoring catch limits, operating in closed areas, targeting protected wildlife, and fishing with prohibited gear. These illicit activities can destroy important habitats, severely deplete fish populations, and threaten global food security. For illegal fishers, IUU fishing is a low-risk, high-reward activity, especially on the high seas where a fragmented legal framework and lack of effective enforcement allow it to thrive.
In January 2021, Oceana released the results of a nationwide poll finding that Americans overwhelmingly support policies to end illegal fishing and seafood fraud. Included among the key findings, 89% of voters agree that imported seafood should be held to the same standards as U.S. caught seafood. Additionally, 81% of voters say they support policies that prevent seafood from being sold in the U.S. that was caught using human trafficking and slave labor. Eighty-three percent of voters agree that all seafood should be traceable from the fishing boat to the dinner plate, and 77% support requirements for all fishing vessels to be publicly trackable. The findings show widespread bipartisan support for policies aimed at increasing transparency and seafood traceability.