Imagine if a new luxurious dish had dog paws as its signature ingredient. What if we started catching dogs, lopping off their paws, and letting them die slowly, all so we could enjoy the status of eating them? Horrific, right?
Now imagine for a moment that I told you that this does happen—not to dogs—but to sharks. Yes, that’s right. It’s called “shark finning” and it’s the unspeakably inhumane practice of catching sharks, slicing off their fins, and discarding them in the ocean where they can no longer survive. This happens to fuel the market for shark fins, specifically shark fin soup. Shark fins are actually rather tasteless, but their consumption is a status symbol in some cultures and sharks are paying dearly for it.
Scientists estimate that more than 73 million sharks are killed for their fins annually. This killing is taking its toll. It is estimated that thirty percent of shark species are now threatened with extinction. This means that the shark species most of us know best—hammerheads, for example—are as endangered as species like the Asian elephant.
It doesn’t help that sharks don’t command the same sympathy as many other species. Okay, so you can’t cuddle with a shark. But the chances of being harmed by one in the wild are incredibly rare. You’re more likely to be an actor in the upcoming Sharknado 3 than you are to be killed by a shark. Humans do exponentially more harm to sharks than they do to us. They play a valuable role in the marine food web and are critical to the health of our oceans.
So what does any of this have to do with Pennsylvania? Wild sharks don’t swim here of course, but it might surprise you to learn that we are part of the problem. That is because there are no laws in Pennsylvania prohibiting the product of this cruel practice. Under the current rules, any restaurant in Pennsylvania can legally serve shark fin soup. While shark finning is technically illegal in US waters and those of some other countries, it happens at sea so it is easy for unscrupulous fishermen to circumvent the law, given that no federal or state law prohibits them from doing so.
The largely unregulated fishing for sharks is driving many species to the brink of extinction and Pennsylvania is complicit by keeping the legal door open to the product of this cruel practice. But thanks to the leadership of Senator Daylin Leach, joined by Senator Richard Alloway and the dedicated network of Humane PA supporters across the state, we’re about to change that. Senate Bill 264 which would prohibit the possession, sale, trade, and distribution of shark fins in Pennsylvania. This bill just passed the full Senate on May 11 and is now awaiting action in the House Judiciary Committee.
Scientists now estimate that sharks are being killed at twice the rate they reproduce. With these species teetering on the brink of extinction and subjected to such cruelty to supply the fin trade, the time has come for Pennsylvanians to step-up and do our part.
How can you help? The bill is currently in the House Judiciary Committee. If you are a constituent of a Representative on the committee, please call and email him or her and politely ask for support of SB 264 which would prohibit the trade in shark fins in Pennsylvania.