For those unfamiliar with the practice of 'finning' sharks, it is the act of slicing the fins off live sharks in the ocean and proceeding to throw them back in, severely injured, causing them to bleed to death or drown. This practice is undeniably cruel and wasteful; the unnatural deaths of tens of millions of sharks each year has had a negative impact on ocean ecosystem populations wherever it takes place. The pain caused to these magnificent creatures and their fellow earthlings within their ecosystems is mostly driven by the demand for shark fin soup.
U.S. federal law already prohibits the practice of finning in its oceans, but there is no ban on the trade of shark fins, leading the market to import from regions where there is little to no shark protection in place to satisfy demand. Finning has become a significant problem for ocean ecosystems, some of which have seen shark populations decline by 99% in recent decades. This species has been around for over 400 million years, top predators essential for the ecological balance of our oceans, yet humans have managed to put them at risk for endangerment in such a short period of time.
On May 12, 2011, the state of Washington passed legislation essential to the protection of the shark species. SB 5688, a bill banning the trade of shark fins in the state of Washington, was signed by Washington Governor Christine Gregoire. The state's leadership on this issue would not have been possible without Senators Ranker, Swecker, Rockefeller, Litzow, Shin, and Kline (insert round of applause here). Hawaii and Guam have recently passed similar laws and there is pending legislation in California and Oregon.
Oceana, an international organization that uses science-based campaigns in their work to protect the world's oceans, couldn't be happier with the initiative the state of Washington recently passed.
“By signing this legislation the Governor took a very large west coast leadership role in initiating action to address a global problem,” said Whit Sheard, Senior Advisor and Pacific Counsel for Oceana. Their hope is for the state of Washington to serve as the role model other states need in order for bills similar to SB 5688 to keep getting signed.
The full document and history of SB 5688 is available online through the State of Washington government site.
Photo credit:Discovery Channel