Shark victims on Capitol Hill

Nine survivors of shark attacks are in Washington today to lobby the Senate — on behalf of sharks.

The group, which was organized by a shark attack victim who works for the nonprofit Pew Environment Group, is asking for new restrictions to be placed on fishing for sharks.

The bill they are lending their support to is called the Shark Conservation Act of 2009. It’s already passed a House vote and, if enacted, would strengthen a ban on a practice called “finning,” in which a shark’s fins are cut off onboard a fishing vessel and the shark is thrown back overboard, in U.S. waters.

Finning itself is already illegal under U.S. law, but “enforcement is complex and there is room for cheating,” according to the Humane Society of the United States. “This legislation closes a loophole that currently permits a vessel to transport fins obtained illegally as long as the sharks were not finned aboard that vessel.”

According to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, over 30%of shark and ray species that live in the open ocean are threatened, some as a result of fishing for their meat (shark fin soup, in particular, is a big offender), others as a side effect of marlin or tuna fishing (the sharks are sometimes caught in fishermen’s nets accidentally).

And scientists fear that, if the sharks — an apex predator — continue to decline, entire ecosystems could suffer.

“We’ll finally be heard,” Al Brenneka, who lost an arm in a 1976 shark attack, told the Washington Post. “Who should speak up for the sharks better than the people that the sharks have spoken to themselves?”

Brenneka and the eight other survivors arrived from California, New York, Rhode Island, Florida and Alabama to tell their stories. Another member of the group, Chuck Anderson (pictured), told the Post that, although sharks are “vicious and they’re mean,” he bears no ill will toward them, adding that he has no “right to be angry at the shark.”

Source: LA Times