Big Gains Made in Shark Conservation, But Extinction Still Possible
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WASHINGTON, DC, January 6, 2010 (ENS) - Although many shark species are still at risk of extinction, around the world shark conservation advanced last year. In Washington on Tuesday, President Barack Obama signed into law the Shark Conservation Act of 2010, which increases protection for sharks from the practice of shark finning, by which fishermen cut the fins off sharks and throw them back into the sea to die.
Many vessels target sharks for their fins, prized as an ingredient in shark fin soup. The new law will close a loophole in the Shark Finning Prohibition Act of 2000 that allowed vessels to transport fins obtained illegally, as long as the sharks were not finned aboard that vessel.
The Shark Conservation Act, introduced by Representatives Madeleine Bordallo of Guam, Eni Faleomavaega of American Samoa, and Senator John Kerry of Massachusetts, all Democrats, requires that sharks be landed with their fins still naturally attached, the only sure way to enforce a ban on finning.
"Shark finning has fueled massive population declines and irreversible disruption of our oceans," said Senator Kerry.
In July 2008, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration began requiring that sharks be landed with their fins attached, but these regulations applied only to U.S. fisheries in the Atlantic, Caribbean, and Gulf of Mexico, not the Pacific Ocean. The new law extends that rule to the Pacific.
Another section of the new law amends the High Seas Driftnet Fishing Moratorium Protection Act to direct the Secretary of Commerce to urge international fishery management organizations of which the United States is a member to adopt shark conservation measures, including measures to prohibit removal of shark fins, and discard of the shark carcass at sea.
It requires the secretary to seek to enter into international shark conservation agreements that are comparable to those of the United States. The secretary must also list a nation in the biennial report on international compliance if the nation's fishing vessels catch sharks in waters beyond their jurisdiction if that nation has not adopted shark conservation rules, including fin removal and carcass disposal prohibitions.
Conservation groups such as Humane Society International, the Humane Society of the United States and the Pew Environment Group applauded the new legislation.
"Cutting off sharks' fins and tossing their live bodies back into the sea is terribly cruel," said Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of The Humane Society of the United States. "It's also a major factor in the severe decline of sharks worldwide and the associated devastating impact on other species in the ocean ecosystem."
Matt Rand, director of the Pew Environment Group's Global Shark Conservation Campaign, said, "Sharks are in serious trouble. An estimated 73 million sharks are killed every year primarily to support the global shark fin trade. Thirty percent of the world's species are threatened or near threatened with extinction. Some populations, such as scalloped hammerheads and dusky sharks along the eastern U.S. coast, have plummeted by as much as 80 percent since the 1970s."
In May 2010, then Hawaii Governor Linda Lingle signed the nation's first shark protection bill into law. As of July 1, 2010 it became illegal to possess or sell shark fins in the state.
Under the new Hawaii law, vessels that could once transfer, trans-ship and store tons of fins in Hawaii can no longer do so. The only exemptions in the new law apply to shark research and educational institutions holding permits issued by the Hawaii Department of Land and Natural Resources.
Elsewhere around the world, shark conservation was also upheld and extended.