December 22, 2010

US Senate Tighhtens Grip On Shark Fins

The US Senate tightened laws against shark finning on Monday, hoping to save the ancient fish which experts say is teetering on the brink of extinction due to the growing demand for the shark fins in many Chinese restaurants.

The removal of fins was already illegal in the United States but the new rules close a major loophole that permitted trade in the Pacific so long as sharks were not finned onboard the vessel.

The bill sailed through the House of Representatives in early 2009 but had faded away in the Senate, which approved the measure without objection on one of the last days of its session.

"Shark finning has fueled massive population declines and irreversible disruption of our oceans," Senator John Kerry-D Mass, who supported the bill, told AFP.

"Finally we've come through with a tough approach to tackle this serious threat to our marine life," Kerry said.

The bill does not prohibit imported shark fin, which is available in many classy Chinese restaurants in the US.

Conservationists also supported the bill, saying it would curb an escalating but largely undocumented US trade in shark fins.

"This legislation will help address not only an unspeakably cruel practice of removing fins from live animals and then releasing them to suffer a slow death," said Nancy Perry, vice president for government affairs at The Humane Society of the United States.

"It will also help address on the macro level the rapid decline of shark populations," she said.

An estimated 73 million sharks are killed every year for their fins, leading to declines of up to 90 percent of some shark species, which have been swimming the ocean depths since the age of dinosaurs.

Despite campaigns from activists, demand for shark fins is growing as China becomes increasingly prosperous.

Matt Rand, who directs the shark conservation efforts campaign at the Pew Environmental Group, said he heard that shark fins were going for as much as 800 dollars per pound in California alone.

"The United States is a major shark exporter," said Rand. "I think this legislation sends a big signal that the United States is concerned about the decline of shark populations, not just in its own waters but in international waters as well."

Sharks are mainly caught for their fins, as little meat is found in the rest of the fish. While current laws do not ban trade in fins, all shark fins entering the US must have an accompanying carcass.


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