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March 03, 2009

No (Shark Fin) Soup for You

All for a bowl of soup.

Yesterday, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Shark Conservation Act of 2009, designed to end U.S. involvement in the monstrous cruelty of shark finning—hacking the fins off a live shark, with the animal then thrown overboard to die. For soup.

It is a gross abuse, taking place on an almost unimaginable scale throughout the world’s oceans. As many as 100 million sharks are being killed each year to meet global demand. For a tasteless ingredient that is not even a main course.

Swimming shark
© iStockphoto

The U.S. originally prohibited the abandonment of mutilated dying sharks in the ocean in the year 2000 but the rules were complicated and difficult to enforce. Finning continued in U.S. waters. The new legislation makes it illegal to cut fins off sharks at sea; all sharks must be brought to land whole. This “fins-attached” requirement is the most straightforward and only certain way to prevent sharks from being finned.

We currently lag behind other countries on this issue. Since last summer, sharks caught in the U.S. Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico must be brought to land with their fins attached. But there is no such requirement in other U.S. waters, including the vast Pacific Ocean. And there is already an attempt afoot to circumvent the fins-attached regulations in the Atlantic in the case of certain species of sharks.

The news is better south of the border. Costa Rica leads a group of Latin American countries that already have national fins-attached laws, and together, they’re urging other countries to adopt similar legislation.

We expect the Shark Conservation Act of 2009 to be introduced in the Senate soon, and we’re going to work hard to see that it is passed (you can help by calling and writing your Senators). Once the U.S. has a strong nationwide finning ban in place, it will be able to speak with the same moral authority as those nations that already have stronger protections for sharks.

Our global arm, Humane Society International, has been working with the governments of a number of countries to promote fins-attached laws on the domestic, regional, and international levels. Our work also involves consumer education, since shark fin soup is sold on a wholesale level in Chinese restaurants around the world, including in the U.S. Since finning bans do not make the sale of shark fin soup illegal, we are also urging everyone to do their part to protect sharks by avoiding the dish and signing our No Shark Fin Pledge.

Quite apart from its obvious horrors, there is a profligate wastefulness to shark finning that the world simply cannot afford. Sharks have a long gestation period, and like so many ocean-dwelling creatures, they face many other threats to their survival. Finning has taken a calamitous toll on their numbers, with corollary effects on the health and integrity of ocean ecosystems. We cannot let this happen, not for soup or any other reason.

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