The National Coalition for Marine Conservation (NCMC) has pointed out a serious loophole in a law designed to protect sharks and a new bill in Congress designed to close that loophole.
The Shark Finning Prohibition Act of 2000 was passed to prevent anglers from catching sharks, cutting off their fins and dumping the carcasses in U.S. waters.
Shark fin soup is prized by some cultures and shark fins command a high price.
The loophole came to light in March when the U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals ruled that an American ship that was caught 250 miles off Guatemala in 2002 with about 65,000 pounds of shark fins worth more than $600,000 did not break the law.
The reason given by the judges was that the American ship was not a fishing vessel.
According the shark finning act, it is illegal for a “fishing vessel” to possess shark fins without the rest of the carcass.
The judges ruled that the ship in question was merely transporting shark fins back to the United States that it bought from foreign vessels.
Rep. Madeleine Bordallo of Guam, the chairwoman of the House of Representatives subcommittee on Fisheries, Wildlife and Oceans, has introduced the Shark Conservation Act of 2008 (H.R. 5741) to close that loophole and encourage other countries to prohibit shark finning.
The bill is waiting to be heard by the subcommittee before it can move to the floor of the House for a vote.
The NCMC, which is a member of the National Marine Fisheries Service’s highly migratory species advisory panel, supports Bordallo’s bill.
It recommends people contact their representatives and ask that the bill be amended to require that sharks remain in whole condition until the ship arrives in port.
The NCMC noted that commercial anglers can remove a shark’s fins at sea, but it is difficult to match shark fins to shark carcasses, which makes it hard to enforce the finning ban.