California Assembly Members Paul Fong and Jared Huffman have introduced a bill to prohibit the sale of shark fins in California to the State Assembly, with the support of Edward Norton.

California is one of the largest sources of demand for shark fin outside Asia and this bill would represent a major step towards reducing pressure on shark populations. Furthermore the bill complements the ban introduced in both Hawaii and the Commonwealth of North Mariana Islands (CNMI) as well as restrictions established by the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas (ICCAT).

Every year fins from up to 73 million sharks are used for shark fin soup, which is contributing to the decimation of shark populations worldwide so that now one third of shark species are threatened with extinction. As sharks play a vital role in the oceans, their depletion could cause irreparable damage to marine ecosystems.

Since 1999, WildAid has researched the shark fin trade in over a dozen countries and has been working internationally to reduce demand for shark fin. They released dramatic evidence that sharks are being finned alive for soup. Footage shot by WildAid shows a live tawny nurse shark dumped on an Indonesian reef with its fins removed. “This footage is definitive proof that sharks are being finned alive for soup,” said Peter Knights, Executive Director of WildAid. “There is currently no law on the books in the U.S. to stop finned sharks from ending up in a bowl of soup here.”

Actor and UN Environment Ambassador Edward Norton, who works with WildAid said “As a life-long diver, I have seen the depletion of sharks caused by the shark fin trade first-hand all over the world from Indonesia to the Galapagos Islands. The Fong/Huffman bill is a vital step towards reducing demand and protecting these important animals and has my full support.”

Shark fin soup is widely available from Chinese restaurants in the U.S. WildAid’s survey found one third of Chinese restaurants in San Francisco serving the dish priced from $6.95 to $85 a bowl.

Fins from up to 73 million sharks a year are used for shark fin soup often with the bodies of the animal dumped overboard dead or alive. Given the high price that shark fin soup commands, shark poaching is rife in marine protected areas, such as the Galapagos Islands and Cocos Island. There have been seizures of up to 10,000 fins at a time and most recently WildAid-trained sniffer dogs uncovered an illegal cache of fins in the Galapagos.

In a recent study the world’s top shark scientists (IUCN Shark Specialist Group) reported that of 64 species of open ocean sharks and rays, 32% are “threatened with extinction,” primarily due to overfishing. In addition, 24% were “near threatened,” while another 25% could not be assessed due to lack of data. Sharks are highly vulnerable to overfishing due to their late maturity and slow reproduction. Globally shark catches are unregulated or unsustainable and the shark fin trade is unregulated worldwide.

In China, there is a growing groundswell of opposition to shark finning. NBA star and one of China’s most popular figures, Yao Ming, has recorded WildAid public service announcements using the new footage. Other Chinese sporting and movie icons, as well as leading businessmen, are taking a stand by refusing to eat shark fin soup. Li Ning, who lit the Olympic torch and Liu Huan, who sang in the Beijing Opening ceremony, and a number of Olympians, including North America’s Tara Kirk and Amanda Beard, have all pledged to not eat shark fin soup and have also recorded public service announcements. The campaign has been featured on China’s CCTV networks featuring 20 Olympic gold medalists and has reached hundreds of millions of Chinese. Chinese business leaders joined the pledge and Alibaba (the Chinese Ebay equivalent) now prohibits the sale of shark fin through their site.

“Sharks have been around for nearly 400 million years, but at the current rate of overfishing they could be wiped out in a single human generation,” said Knights. “Fisheries regulation on the ground has utterly failed to reduce overfishing, market approaches like this bill are the way to go.”

A recent report The Future of Sharks: A Review of Action and Inaction found that only 13 of the top 20 shark fishing nations have developed national plans of action to protect sharks-one of the primary recommendations from the United Nations Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO) in 2001-and it remains unclear how those plans have been implemented or whether they have been effective.

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