Sustainable Shark Fisheries bill clears Senate Commerce Committee

WASHINGTON, D.C. — A U.S. Senate committee advanced a bill promoting the sustainable management practices of shark fisheries around the world, May 22. The bill – known as the Sustainable Shark Fisheries and Trade Act of 2018 – would amend the High Seas Driftnet Fishing Moratorium Protection Act “to improve the conservation of sharks.”

Senators on the U.S. Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation approved Senate Bill 2764 (S. 2764) during their May 22 executive meeting. The vote allows S. 2764 – which was introduced by Sens. Marco Rubio, R-Florida, and Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska – to move forward to the Senate floor.

Rubio hailed the proposal as a “global model of sustainability” which “recognizes the sustainable and economically-valuable fishing practices of U.S. shark fishermen.”

“Sharks are already sustainably and humanely harvested in federal waters per U.S. law, providing sustained economic benefits to coastal communities through fishing, trade, and tourism,” Rubio said in a released statement. “This bill will help promote those same standards for sustainable and humane shark harvesting among our global trade partners as well.”

S. 2764, if approved by the legislature and signed into law, would require nations seeking to import shark products into the United States to be certified in conservation and trade fairness.

The bill also proposes to “prohibit the importation of shark products originating from any nation without a certification, and the possession of such products in the U.S. with limited exceptions for law enforcement, subsistence harvest, education, conservation, or scientific research,” according to Rubio.

Rays and skates, meanwhile, would be included under the seafood traceability program in order to prevent shark products from being smuggled into the country and falsely labeled as a ray or skate.

Also included in S. 2764 is a proposed update of the High Seas Driftnet Fishing Moratorium Protection Act. The update, according to Rubio, would “reflect the U.S. commitment to promote international agreements that encourage the adoption of shark conservation and management measures and measures to prevent shark finning.”

Rep. Daniel Webster, R-Florida, introduced a similar bill – H.R. 5248 – in the House of Representatives.

Rep. Ed Royce, R-California, introduced a separate bill – The Shark Fin Sales Elimination Act (H.R. 1456) – proposing to ban the sale of shark fins in March.

“Sharks play an integral role in our oceans’ ecosystems and if populations continue to decline at the current rate, our oceans, as we know them, will cease to exist,” Royce said in testimony he provided in defense of H.R. 1456 in front of the House Natural Resources Committee on Water, Power and the Oceans. “My bill … would make it illegal to buy, sell, or possess shark fins in the United States. To be clear, the bill does not prohibit shark fishing.”

Congress banned the possession of a shark fin without carcass in 2000 and updated the prohibition in 2010 to close certain loopholes. Current legislative efforts are pushing to apply U.S.-based regulations to international groups.

Photo: Southwest Fisheries Science Center/NOAA

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