Obama signs the Shark Conservation Act, meant to stop killing sharks just for fins

From ANIMAL PEOPLE,  January/February 2011:

Washington D.C. – U.S. President Barack Obama on January 4, 2011 endorsed into law the Shark Conservation Act,  passed unanimously by both the Senate and the House of Representatives during the last days of the 111th Congress.

“The legislation requires that sharks be landed with their fins still naturally attached,  the only sure way to enforce a ban on finning,”  summarized Humane Society Legislative Fund president Mike Markarian.

Finning is the practice of killing sharks just for their fins and dumping the rest of each dead or dying shark.

The Shark Conservation Act will also “close a loophole in the current law that allowed vessels to transport fins obtained illegally as long as the sharks were not finned aboard that vessel,” Markarian added.  “Up to 73 million sharks are killed [for fins] each year–a major cause of declines in shark populations,”  Markarian said.

The chief market for shark fins is for use in shark fin soup, served at formal dinners,  especially wedding banquets,  in the more affluent parts of China and other nations with large ethnic Chinese populations.

“”In 2000,”  recalled the Animal Welfare Institute in a prepared statement,  “President Bill Clinton signed the Shark Finning Prohibition Act,  making it unlawful to possess a shark fin in U.S. waters without a corresponding carcass.”  When that proved difficult to enforce,  AWI said,  “the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration issued regulations in 2008 mandating that sharks must be landed with fins attached in the Atlantic,  Caribbean and Gulf of Mexico,  but not the Pacific.  The Shark Conservation Act extends this requirement to all U.S. waters.”

But AWI noted that “The version of the bill that passed includes an exemption for smooth dogfish sharks,  for which a small fishery exists in North Carolina,  primarily targeting the fish for meat.  The exemption will allow these few fishers to continue to separate fins of this species from carcasses at sea to conserve space on their boats.  These fishers will be responsible for demonstrating that the fins on their boat belong to the carcasses.”

“Shark finning has continued because the fins fetch a far higher price than the meat,”  elaborated Washington Post staff writer Juliet Eilperin.

The Shark Conservation Act was blocked in the Senate for more than two months by Oklahoma Republican Tom Coburn,  “on the grounds that implementing it would cost taxpayers money,”  wrote Eilperin. “The bill sponsors offset the measure’s five-year,  $5 million cost by cutting that amount from a federal fisheries grant program over the next two years.”

The 2000 Shark Finning Prohibition Act was credited by Pew Environment Group global shark conservation director Matt Rand with introducing a 93% decline in the average numbers of sharks landed in the U.S. per year–but the actual catch may have been much larger, due to transfers of fins to foreign vessels while still at sea.

Recalled Shaun Tandon of Agence France-Presse,  “In 2002, the U.S. Coast Guard seized a Hong Kong-chartered,  Hawaii-registered ship that was hauling nearly 65,000 pounds of just fins–meaning tens of thousands of sharks died.”

Hawaii state senator Clayton Hee in May 2010 won passage of a bill which prohibited possessing,  selling,  or bartering shark fins within Hawaii and Hawaiian waters.

Similar bills have been adopted in Palau and the Maldives.  A parallel bill introduced by Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands house minority leader Diego Bonavente cleared the CNMI house on November 17,   but was amended before passage by the CNMI senate on December 9.

Hee flew to Saipan to help lobby for CNMI house ratification of the amended bill, and to ask Governor Benigno Fitial to promptly sign the bill into law when it reaches his desk.  “Press secretary Angel Demapan said the governor indicated his ‘full support for the shark finning ban,'”  reported Haidee V. Eugenio of the Saipan Tribune.

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