If you’ve watched nearly any movie with a shark as the star, you’ve likely seen the sea creature depicted as a ravenous, razor-toothed monster intent on demolishing everything in its path. Hollywood might lead you to believe that sharks are the hunters and everyone else is the hunted. But, in reality, when it comes to the shark-human dynamic, it’s entirely the other way around.
According to scientists, humans are responsible for the deaths of roughly 100 million sharks every year. (Sharks, meanwhile, are responsible for approximately 6 human deaths worldwide.) And the vast majority of those deaths—roughly 73 million—can be attributed to the cruel practice of shark finning.
Finning refers to the method of catching a shark solely for its fins and discarding the body (often still alive) back into the water to die. Despite the growing attack on the practice from animal welfare activists, it’s still a lucrative industry worldwide. In Chinese cuisine, shark fin soup is considered a delicacy, often served at weddings and business meetings.
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While it’s illegal to kill sharks for their fins in U.S. waters, it’s not illegal to import shark fins into the country. That’s recently changed for Canada, which just became the first G20 country in the world to ban shark fin imports and exports. With the newly approved Fisheries Act, Canada is relinquishing its status as the largest importer of shark fins outside of Asia.
“This is just one step forward,” said Canadian senator Michael MacDonald, who first brought the bill to ban shark fin imports to the table in 2017. “But it’s an important one and sends a signal to the world that this practice is wrong, has to be stopped, and Canada will not participate in the import of these fins anymore.”
In the U.S., strides have been made to decrease the amount of shark fins being traded within the country. Twelve states, including California, Hawaii, and New York, have passed laws that prohibit the possession, sale, and distribution of fins. (Though some reports say you can still find them on the menu.) Despite the decline, the NOAA still estimated that roughly 24 metric tons of shark fins entered the U.S. in 2015.
But there’s still hope for finning opponents in the U.S.: The Shark Fin Sales Elimination Act of 2019, a bill similar to the Canadian ban, was recently re-introduced in Congress after failing to pass in 2017. According to Oceana, the ban has the support of 12 states, 40 airlines, 635 businesses, and eight in 10 Americans. (Does this include you? Sign Oceana’s petition to get updates on the bill’s progress.) Learn more about finning and the importance of shark conservation here.