U.S. Shark Fin Ban “Will Not Work,” Would Likely Hurt Shark Conservation Efforts, Expert Tells Rep. Doug Lamborn
WASHINGTON – May 2, 2018 – In response to a question from Rep. Doug Lamborn (R-CO), shark expert Dr. Robert Hueter wrote that a U.S. ban on the trade of shark fins would not work and would potentially lead to more unsustainable or finned shark fins in the global market.
Dr. Hueter, director of the Center for Shark Research at Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota, Florida, previously testified before the House Natural Resources Subcommittee on Water, Power and Oceans on April 17 in favor of a sustainable shark trade bill and against a fin ban. His most recent comments came in response to a follow-up question from Rep. Lamborn about the message a fin ban would send to other nations.
“U.S. fishers do not fin their sharks,” Dr. Hueter wrote. “So the consequences of this action will be to punish the fishers doing it right—U.S. shark fisheries—and reward the foreign fisheries doing it wrong. That is a terrible message to send the world.”
John Polston, a fisherman and representative of the Sustainable Shark Alliance, also testified in April in support of the Sustainable Shark Fisheries and Trade Act and in opposition to the Shark Fin Sales Elimination Act. The Sustainable Shark Alliance is a member of Saving Seafood’s National Coalition for Fishing Communities.
The full text of Rep. Lamborn’s question and Dr. Hueter’s response is reproduced below:
Question from Rep. Doug Lamborn for Dr. Robert Hueter, Director of the Center for Shark Research, Mote Marine Laboratory
- Supporters of H.R. 1456 have argued that such a ban on shark fin sales would send a message to other countries. What message do you think this ban would send?
RESPONSE FROM DR. HUETER [emphasis added by Saving Seafood]:
The supporters of H.R. 1456 are hoping the message the U.S. will send to other nations with a domestic fin ban is that shark fins should no longer be tolerated as a consumable product. This U.S. leadership, they hope, would end the global fin market, eliminate all shark finning, and recover shark populations worldwide. Analogies are made to past U.S. leadership in the elephant ivory trade and in commercial whaling. But as explained in Dr. David Shiffman’s and my 2017 peer-reviewed paper in the journal Marine Policy, this approach is flawed and will not work, for several reasons. Unlike in the case of elephant ivory where the U.S. was the world’s major consumer, we are only a 1% player in the world shark fin market, and thus our withdrawal from that market will not have the same type of direct effect on world trade of fins as happened with the ivory trade. In fact, it’s reasonable to conclude that the small market share of shark fins that U.S. fishers currently supply will be taken up by nations fishing sharks unsustainably, probably even finning the sharks. Recall that U.S. fishers do not fin their sharks—that is, they do not remove the fins and discard the rest of the animals at sea, because American fishers are required to land all their sharks with the fins still “naturally attached” (with the exception of the northeast dogfish fishery, which is allowed to remove the fins at sea to begin processing the meat and fins on the fishing boat). So the consequences of this action will be to punish the fishers doing it right—U.S. shark fisheries—and reward the foreign fisheries doing it wrong. That is a terrible message to send the world.
Furthermore, our position at the international negotiating table where shark conservation issues are discussed will be compromised if we withdraw from the fin market. The message we will be carrying to that forum is, no matter what other nations do to create sustainability in their shark fisheries, it will never be enough to allow them to harvest the fins, in our view. This loss of leverage will backfire for U.S. attempts to advance shark conservation around the world. In addition, consider today’s realities with elephants and whales: elephants are still being poached as the ivory trade has been driven underground, meaning we can no longer track this commodity through world trade routes, and elephants are still declining. And whales are still being hunted commercially by those nations who do not share our preservationist beliefs about marine mammals. Along these lines, a domestic fin ban also sends a message to Asian cultures that even if they are using the entire shark, even if the sharks are not being finned and the level of fishing for them is sustainable, their use of fins to make soup is unethical. This creates a clash of cultural values, both internationally and domestically, and our moral position will be difficult to defend.
Finally, by focusing our legislative efforts solely on the fin trade in the U.S., we send a message to American citizens that we are solving the worldwide problem in shark depletion by banning the fins here. Conservation groups then declare victory to their supporters, Congress moves on to other issues, and the U.S. public thinks the problem has been solved. Nothing could be further from the truth, as sharks will continue to be caught by other nations for their meat and fins and suffer unsustainable levels of bycatch mortality in foreign fisheries. This is where H.R. 5248 represents an evolution of thinking in how to address the issue, by not simply focusing on the fins and also including the rays, which are in as serious trouble as the sharks worldwide.
Therefore, in my view the message we will be sending the world if we implement a nationwide, domestic ban of the shark fin trade is this: The U.S. does not believe in sustainable fishing for sharks, we do not subscribe to the full use doctrine for marine resources as laid out by the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) of the United Nations, we condemn Asian cultures for their consumption of shark fins even from sustainable shark fisheries, and we are okay with damaging our own domestic fisheries to construct a purely symbolic but misguided and ineffective message for shark conservation.
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