One hundred million is an absurdly large number, especially when you consider that’s how many sharks—living, feeling organisms—are estimated to be killed every year, the majority for their fins. The process is gruesome: Sharks are caught, their fins are hacked off, and then they’re left to die from suffocation, loss of blood, or predators. “It’s without doubt, the worst act of animal cruelty I’ve ever seen,” celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay said in documentary on the shark fishing industry.
Just 12 states have outlawed the trade of shark fins, and Florida, where Miami has become the number one spot for the importation of shark fins, is considering becoming the 13th, with a bipartisan bill in the state House and a similar Republican-introduced bill in the state Senate. Shark tourism and diving bring $221 million to the state each year and directly support 3,700 jobs, but in places like the Keys once-common sharks are becoming rare. The Florida bills might be the best sharks can get in the near term; a bill in the U.S. Senate, which would have banned fin trade and was sponsored by Democratic Senator Cory Booker, passed committee but a similar bill languished in the House.
The U.S. bills have broad support. Last year, a New York Times editorial stated, “This legislation won’t end the problem, though it will help. In China, a concerted effort by government and conservation groups has reduced Chinese consumption of shark fins by 80 percent in the past decade. More needs to be done elsewhere, as there are signs that shark fin soup is gaining popularity elsewhere in Asia.
“By imposing a nationwide ban on the trade of shark fins, Congress would remove the United States from the fin trade entirely, improve enforcement of the current finning ban and send a message to other countries that the United States condemns finning as a cruel practice that should not be allowed to continue.”
Banning the trade of fins is a start, but, as a lengthy National Geographic story reports, the issue is complicated. Where states have banned the sale of fins, the market has gone underground. Enforcement agencies are underfunded, and enforcement is difficult under the best of circumstances. Meanwhile, 70 percent of the species favored by Hong Kong, the epicenter of shark fin soup consumption, are at high or very high risk of extinction.
Learn more about the fin trade and the Florida bills at Shark Allies.
Photo by Jonas Allert