The committee voted unanimously to pass the Act, which closes loopholes that allowed finning – a process where fishermen slice off a shark's fins and dump the animal, sometimes still alive, back in the water. This practice leaves the sharks to drown or bleed to death. Up to 73 million sharks are killed annually for their lucrative fins, which can fetch up to $300 per pound mostly in Asian markets as a soup ingredient.
Last July, I gathered a group of shark attack victims to join with the Pew Environment Group – where I work – to push for the legislation, sponsored by Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass. The full Senate still must approve the measure. The House version, introduced by Rep. Madeline Bordallo, D-Guam, passed unanimously in March. We hope this Act will finally become law by next month and give the United States credibility to persuade other nations and international fishery managers to follow suit.
People wonder why shark attack victims would push for such protections. In 2004, a shark severed my Achilles tendon while I was wading off Florida's east coast. Luckily, I recovered, but some of my friends lost limbs and suffered severe disfigurements. Krishna Thompson, a New York banker, and Al Brenneka, head of the Shark Attack Survivors support group, nearly died and lost a leg and arm, respectively. Mike Coots, of Hawaii, has returned to the water and surfs with a prosthetic leg. We all chose to see our attackers not as vicious killing machines but as vital members of the marine ecosystem.
We just happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. So we looked beyond our own personal losses and realized we are in a unique position to be advocates for sharks.
As part of Pew's global shark conservation campaign (www.pewsharks.org), nine of us traveled to Washington, D.C. to lobby our Senators to back shark finning legislation. We successfully persuaded many Senators to support our efforts and to date the Senate bill has about 20 co-sponsors.
My friends and I are going to continue our work to save sharks here and globally. More than one third of the world's shark species are threatened or near threatened with extinction. Some populations, such as scalloped hammerheads and dusky sharks along the eastern U.S. coast, have plummeted by as much as 80 percent since the 1970s. Domestic protections alone will not save sharks. We need increased shark protections at the international level.
Let's not lose these apex predators as they are a vital part of a healthy ocean. We need to save these icons. If a group of shark attack victims can believe in that goal, can't everyone?