Shark Conservation Act Signed into Law to Curb Cruel Shark Finning

The Humane Society of the United States, Humane Society International and the Humane Society Legislative Fund applaud President Barack Obama for signing an important bipartisan bill that will increase protection for sharks from the cruel and wasteful practice of shark finning – cutting the fins off a shark and tossing the mutilated live animal back into the ocean to die.

The Shark Conservation Act – introduced by Reps. Madeleine Bordallo, D-Guam, Eni Faleomavaega, D-American Samoa, and Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass. – requires that sharks be landed with their fins still naturally attached, the only sure way to enforce a ban on finning. H.R. 81 will strengthen the Shark Finning Prohibition Act of 2000 that has been difficult to enforce, closing a loophole in that law that unintentionally allowed vessels to transport fins obtained illegally as long as the sharks were not finned aboard that vessel. Many fisheries target sharks for their valuable fins, which are sold for shark fin soup.

“Cutting off sharks’ fins and tossing their live bodies back into the sea is terribly cruel. It’s also a major factor in the severe decline of sharks worldwide and the associated devastating impact on other species in the ocean ecosystem,” said Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of The HSUS. “Up to 73 million sharks are killed this way each year, just for shark fin soup. The Shark Conservation Act will make the U.S. ban on shark finning more enforceable and strengthen our hand in international negotiations. We thank President Obama for taking this important step forward in conservation and animal protection.”

Along with praising President Obama and the legislation’s prime sponsors, the groups extend their thanks to Chairwoman Maria Cantwell, D-Wash., and Ranking Republican Olympia Snowe, R-Maine, whose leadership on the Oceans, Atmosphere, Fisheries, and Coast Guard Subcommittee of the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation were instrumental in guiding the bill to Senate passage. The groups also thank House Natural Resources Committee Chairman Nick Rahall, D-W.Va., Committee Ranking Member Doc Hastings, R-Wash., and Subcommittee Ranking Member Henry Brown, R-S.C., who worked with Subcommittee Chairwoman Bordallo to bring the bill forward in the House, and Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., who helped ensure timely approval of this legislation before Congress adjourned, and other Senate cosponsors of the bill including Sen. David Vitter, R-La.

In July 2008, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration instituted regulations requiring that sharks be landed with their fins attached, but these regulations applied only to U.S. fisheries in the Atlantic, Caribbean, and Gulf of Mexico, not the Pacific. The Shark Conservation Act will bring the Pacific fisheries into line with the rest of the country’s fins-attached policy, and strengthen the U.S. position in international shark conservation efforts.


  • H.R. 81, introduced by Rep. Madeleine Bordallo, D-Guam, had the bipartisan support of 30 cosponsors and passed the House by voice vote with an amendment offered by Rep. Eni Faleomavaega, D-American Samoa, on March 2, 2009.
  • S. 850, introduced by Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., had the bipartisan support of 33 cosponsors.
  • H.R. 81, with Senate amendments, passed the Senate by unanimous consent on December 20, 2010, and the House by voice vote on December 21, 2010, and was signed into law on January 4, 2011.
  • Up to 73 million sharks are killed each year in targeted fisheries and as bycatch. Shark finning is a major cause of massive declines in shark populations around the world, since retaining only the fins allows fishing operations to kill many more sharks at a time (filling their onboard freezers with just the fins while dumping the bodies overboard).
  • When sharks’ fins are cut off and their live bodies are thrown back into the water, the animals suffer a gruesome end, bleeding to death, suffocating because they can’t swim, or being eaten by other sharks.
  • As top predators, sharks play an important role in maintaining ecosystem balance. The killing of large numbers of sharks already appears to be affecting other marine species and commercial fisheries. When shark stocks are depleted, their natural prey proliferate and can have a devastating impact on the species they feed on – for example, fewer sharks mean more skates and rays, who in turn have taken a large bite out of scallop and other shellfish populations.
  • A national fins-attached policy will provide for improved conservation and management of steeply declining shark populations. It is often impossible to identify a shark species solely by looking at its fins, so landing sharks with fins attached is crucial for tracking which species are caught.
  • The Senate amendments include an exemption for smooth dogfish sharks, which are typically caught along the East Coast primarily for their meat. The exemption will put the onus on that fishery to ensure that no fins from any other species are included in smooth dogfish landings.

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