2022 could be the year of the shark in the United States. The long battle to ban shark finning in the U.S. may soon come to a triumphant end after the Shark Fin Sales Elimination Act passed the U.S. House of Representatives on February 4, 2022 as part of the America COMPETES Act of 2022 (H.R. 4521). The bill previously passed in the U.S. Senate on Oceans Day – June 8, 2021 – as part of the U.S. Innovation and Competition Act (S. 1260). Although there are several key steps remaining before the bill becomes law across the country, lawmakers appear poised to ban the practice nationwide.
The America COMPETES Act of 2022 now goes to a conference committee made up of both U.S. House and Senate members to work out the differences between the House and Senate versions of the similar bills. During this process, some pieces may be eliminated – especially where conflict between the two bills exists – before the final bill goes to President Biden’s desk for signature and close the final loopholes that exist among the current patchwork of 13 states and 3 territories that have already banned shark finning.
Thirteen states and 3 territories (California, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Massachusetts, Nevada, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Texas, Washington, American Samoa, Guam, and the Northern Mariana Islands) already banned shark finning, but the practice has yet to be banned nationwide. Hawaii also took the additional step on January 1 of this year to become the first U.S. state to ban shark fishing – a move that makes it illegal to “knowingly capture, entangle, or kill a shark in state marine waters,” applying to all species of shark in Hawaiian waters and coming with misdemeanor charges and fines for violators beginning at $500 and running up to $10,000 per offense.
Calls for shark finning and fishing bans have increased around the world over the past decade amid a growing understanding of the importance of shark conservation for global biodiversity. More than 30 countries have partial or full bans on shark finning and more than 20 have a ban on shark fishing. The bill would catapult the United States as a global leader in shark conservation by banning not only the fishing of sharks in US waters but also the practice of shark finning and the importation of shark fins from other countries. Other world leaders include the United Kingdom – which banned shark finning in 2013 and totally banned importation of shark fins in 2021 – and Canada – which became the first G20 nation to ban the import and export of shark fins in 2019.
Current laws ban finning in US waters but offer no protection once sharks or their fins are on land, thereby allowing import of shark fins in many states. As a result, shark fins imported from around the world directly contribute to the more than 73 million sharks caught and finned globally each year. Nearly 75% of shark species around the world are at risk of extinction, already upsetting the balance of delicate ocean ecosystems and can lead to fisheries collapse and a decline in American jobs and the economies in coastal and island areas across the country.
The 2022 bill would be a big step forward in making the United States a leader in shark and biodiversity conservation restoring the example set by the UN CITES treaty when it was agreed to by more than 80 nations in Washington, DC in 1973 – as a nation that understands and respects the scientific, social, and economic benefits of biodiversity.
For a recent history of the U.S. Shark Fin Sales Elimination Act and important biodiversity information, see our last blog post on this topic here.