By Brad Sewell,
Natural Resources Defense Council.
Between the titillating bone-crunching being shown on Shark Week and the local news stories about great whites visiting Cape Cod waters to feast on burgeoning seal populations, it’s easy to think that sharks never had it so good. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Sharks have swum in our oceans for over 400 million years but many species today are at risk of vanishing in various parts of the world due to extreme fishing pressure, driven mostly by the demand for shark fins. Shark finning is a brutal practice that kills an estimated 26-73 million sharks annually, often times involving the fins being cut off live animals which are cast back into the sea where they drown.
Hammerheads, Dusty Sharks, are "threatened species"
A new video produced by the Natural Resources Defense Council discusses our organization’s efforts to protect this important marine predator. At the federal level, NRDC has submitted petitions to list the dusky shark and the great hammerhead shark as “threatened” under the Endangered Species Act.
These sharks have proved especially vulnerable to fishing pressure – the dusky shark, for example, does not mature until it is 20 years old and even then only have offspring every three years (by contrast, the blue shark, which is more commonly found off the New England coast, matures at between 4 to 6 years and has average litters of 35 pups).
An endangered species?
Earlier this year, federal agencies found that a listing may be warranted for the dusky and the great hammerhead and is now conducting a 12 month scientific study and decide whether to formally propose listing the sharks. For those who care about saving these unique and fascinating animals, you can submit comments in support of the dusky shark and the great hammerhead shark petitions.
In California, NRDC recently filed amicus briefs supporting the State of California at both the district court and the appellate court levels, in a lawsuit challenging the state’s ban on the sale, possession, and trade of shark fins. Oral arguments of the appeal will be heard next week. NRDC was a strong supporter and instrumental in helping ban shark fin trade in California in 2011.
Call for a Fin Free Shark Week
In Illinois, the new ban on shark fin trade is starting to take effect but shark fin soup may still be popping up on menus in Chicago. Illinois is one of eight states and two U.S. territories that have outlawed shark fin trade to help limit the demand fueling an international market that threatens an estimated one-third of the world’s open ocean shark species. NRDC is calling for a ‘fin-free Shark Week’ to remind Chicago’s restaurants about the new law and update their menus.
While sharks may have the misleading reputation to be “killers,” the reality is that we are a much greater threat to sharks than they are to us. There were a dozen fatal shark attacks in 2011. Around the world, it’s been estimated that we kill that many sharks every four seconds, for their meat, liver oil, and fins.
How you can help
For Shark Week, NRDC is asking people to take action: State bans on shark fin trade could be overturned if the National Marine Fisheries Service adopts a proposed rule declaring that the federal government, not states, has sole authority to regulate shark fin imports. Go to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration website to submit a letter urging the fisheries agency to save state bans on shark fin trade.
Brad Sewell is a senior attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council’s Oceans Program and leads NRDC’s Endangered Oceans Project.