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A new bipartisan bill introduced in U.S. Congress this month encourages a science-based approach to significantly reduce the overfishing and unsustainable trade of sharks, rays, and skates around the world and prevent shark finning.
The Sustainable Shark Fisheries and Trade Act of 2018, H.R. 5248, was introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives by Rep. Daniel Webster, R-FL, and Rep. Ted Lieu, D-CA, along with co-sponsors Rep. Bill Posey, R-FL, Rep. William Lacy Clay, D-MO, and Rep. Walter Jones, R-NC.
The Act would require that shark, ray and skate parts and products imported into the U.S. be permitted only from countries certified by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) as having in place and enforcing management and conservation policies for these species comparable to the U.S., including science-based measures to prevent overfishing and provide for recovery of shark stocks. A comparable prohibition on shark finning — the practice of cutting off a shark’s fins and discarding the carcass at sea — would also be required.
Scientists recognize more than 1,250 species of cartilaginous fishes — sharks and related skates and rays. Of these, as many as one-quarter are estimated to be threatened with extinction, and the conservation status of nearly half is poorly known. These fishes play important ecological roles in their marine and freshwater ecosystems, and many species are culturally and economically important. These fishes are particularly vulnerable to overexploitation — most grow slowly, mature late and produce few young. Overfishing, through targeted fisheries and incidental catch, is the primary threat to sharks and their relatives, which are harvested for fins, meat, oil, cartilage and other products.
OCEARCH’s Chief Science Advisor and Mote Marine Laboratory Senior Scientist Dr. Robert Hueter served as a scientific reviewer for the Sustainable Shark Fisheries and Trade Act text, providing feedback based on published research and his decades of experience as a shark scientist to inform policymakers who ultimately determined the content of the legislation.
“The U.S. has a Seafood Import Monitoring Program and other measures to screen out shark products imported from illegal, unregulated or unreported international fisheries, but that does not guarantee those fisheries are sustainable,” Hueter said. “For instance, a fishery could be regulated but deficient in law enforcement or scientific monitoring. As a researcher, I see the Sustainable Shark Fisheries and Trade Act as an opportunity for the U.S. to help incentivize the international community towards sustainable shark fisheries, and to reward those already demonstrating sustainability.”
The new Act is supported by more than 40 organizations involved in conservation and science as well as commercial fishing and aligns with the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ Saving Animals From Extinction (SAFE) initiative, which leverages the reach, expertise, and resources of accredited zoos and aquariums to save species in the wild.
OCEARCH and its scientific partners – OCEARCH, SeaWorld, MOTE, and Jacksonville University – provided a letter of support for the Act, encouraging the use of science-based sustainability goals for all imported shark, skate and ray products.
“Sharks play an essential part in the health of our oceans, and they need our help,” said Chris Fischer, OCEARCH Founding Chairman and Expedition Leader. “The Sustainable Shark Fisheries and Trade Act is a bipartisan solution that conservationists and the fishing industry agree upon, which when coupled with OCEARCH’s global work to gather data to help governments better understand their keystone species, and develop strong conservation and management measures, can help save these animals.”
Hueter noted that the Sustainable Shark Fisheries and Trade Act was inspired by years of international public outcry to stop shark finning. Finning is banned in the U.S., where shark fisheries management is generally deemed strong by the research community.
Global trade in shark and ray parts and products is estimated to be worth hundreds of millions of dollars, approaching $1 billion today, the Wildlife Conservation Society reports. Those estimates are likely under-reported and don’t include the domestic use of shark and ray products. Shark-focused tourism is also estimated to value $314 million annually.
The U.S. has a relatively small share of the world market for shark and ray products, but its productive shark research community offers a wealth of knowledge for bilateral exchange with nations that rely strongly on sharks and rays for nutrition, cultural and tourism needs.
Read the Sustainable Shark Fisheries and Trade Act, H.R. 5248. OCEARCH encourages the public to consult science-based sources and read legislation carefully when contacting their government representatives to support any bill. Show your support for the bill here.