After almost two years of political action in Washington, DC by the Recreational
Fishing Alliance (RFA) and pressure by numerous fishing and conservation groups
nationwide, the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate have approved
legislation banning the practice of finning sharks in all U.S. EEZ waters. The
final bill now awaits the President's signature.
The legislation, introduced by Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham (R-CA), was drafted
in response to the growing practice of mutilating sharks for their fins in Pacific
waters. Longliners fishing for swordfish tuna and marlin catch thousands of
sharks as unwanted bycatch, many of which could and should be released alive
without further harm. Shark fins, however, are a valuable commodity in Asia
where they are used to make gourmet soup or sold as an aphrodisiac. The result
is the practice of “finning” – hacking a shark's fin off and throwing the still
living body back to die a slow and tortuous death. The most recent estimates
indicate that over 60,000 blue sharks were falling prey to the grisly practice
annually just by the commercial boats operating out of Hawaii. This is especially
devastating because sharks are a (usually) long-lived, slow growing species with
limited reproductive capabilities.
The RFA was quick to support the Cunningham bill and sprang into immediate action.
It's team of lobbyists worked relentlessly in the House to garner cosponsors
for the Cunningham bill. Further, RFA worked with Congressman Jim Saxton (R-NJ)
to ensure a fair and expeditious hearing before the Subcommittee on Fisheries
Conservation, Wildlife and Oceans, which Saxton chairs. Meanwhile, in the Senate,
RFA lobbyists worked to marshal support for the companion legislation while it
wended its way through the legislative process, and to assure the passage of
both bills. A lot of time and effort was expended, but the political process
demands no less.
At the grassroots level, our vocal and politically active RFA members were advised
of the situation and took the cause to heart, sending over 19,000 letters of
protest to the Secretary of Commerce and placing incredible pressure on Members
of Congress in both houses to stop this wasteful, wanton practice. This very
important victory for the conservation of sharks will be cemented when the President
takes action and signs the legislation currently awaiting him.