Every year, during one week in summer, sharks are on everyone’s minds and screens as Discovery Channel’s Shark Week has become an annual tradition Americans love. Being from a coastal state like Georgia, and spending as much time as possible on or in the water, I feel fascinated by any opportunity to see these amazing animals off our islands. I also take pride in the beauty and health of our ocean waters. Unfortunately, what many Americans may not realize as they tune in to watch their favorite predators, is that many shark species are in great jeopardy, with some populations around the world declining by more than 90 percent in the last 50 years.
One of the main factors contributing to this decline is the demand for shark fins. Just as the demand for ivory has driven declines in elephant populations, the global demand for shark fins is one of the greatest threats to shark populations around the world. In fact, fins from as many as 73 million sharks end up in the global market every year.
This trade incentivizes shark finning, the brutal practice of slicing the fins off a shark and discarding its body at sea, often leaving the animal to drown, bleed to death or be eaten alive by other animals. Finning is illegal in U.S. waters, however, shark fins are still traded, imported and exported throughout the U.S. In fact, since 2010, the U.S. has imported shark fins from 11 countries, five of which have no finning bans in place. Twelve U.S. states have banned the trade of shark fins within their borders, yet as more and more states close the door on fins, the market shifts accordingly—including to Georgia.
It may come as a surprise to most Georgians, but, the federal government reports that in 2017 and 2018, over 36,000 total pounds of shark fins were exported through Savannah’s ports. Just this year alone, over 5,000 pounds of fins have come through Georgia.
But there is a way we can help end this global trade that is decimating shark populations worldwide. The Shark Fin Sales Elimination Act was introduced in Congress earlier this year, and would ban the trade of shark fins within/throughout the United States as well as close the loophole our country currently finds itself in—banning the practice but not the product, and by doing so, inadvertently incentivizing shark finning around the world.
This legislation has a strong chance of passing if we can keep the momentum going. Globally, sharks account for millions of dollars in ecotourism, and divers and snorkelers participate in shark ecotourism on every U.S. coast. It is clear many U.S. businesses depend on healthy shark populations for their bottom line.
As a nation, and as Georgians, we can do better. The United States has the largest economy in the world. If we can use our economic influence in the fight against the trade of shark fins globally, it could make a world of difference, as well as encourage other countries to step up to the plate.
The Shark Fin Sales Elimination Act currently has over 230 bipartisan cosponsors in the U.S. House and Senate – but unfortunately our senators, Johnny Isakson and David Perdue are missing from that list.
I ask my fellow Georgians to call Senators Isakson and Perdue and ask them to support the Shark Fin Sales Elimination Act (H.R. 737/S. 877) today. Shark populations around the world—and the U.S. businesses that depend on healthy oceans—cannot afford to wait.
Georgia Campaign Organizer for Oceana