I have always loved sharks. Not in a “I want to get in a cage and take pictures of a white shark” kind of way, but more in a “I want to read books about shark researchers and watch Shark Week” kind of way. They’re amazing creatures, and the fact that they have survived in their prehistoric form is just fascinating to me. As an undergraduate biology major with a focus on anatomy, I can remember spending a week, even a Saturday, in the lab carefully dissecting out the cartilaginous skull to reveal the brain of a dogfish shark. Of all the vertebrates I’ve dissected, the shark has been my favorite.
That sharks are in decline throughout the world is something that has always been troubling to me, and so when I saw that there is a “Shark Conservation Act in the works, I was sure to contact my senators to let them know how I felt about shark conservation, and especially the practice of shark finning. I also noted that as top predators, sharks contain high levels of contaminants such as mercury, and so people really shouldn’t be eating them in the first place. I was more than pleased with the prompt email response I got from Senator Joe Lieberman:
Dear (Farmer’s Daughter):
Thank you for contacting me to express your support for the Shark Conservation Act (H.R. 81). As a longtime supporter of animal protection measures, I share your enthusiasm for this legislation.
As you may know, sharks are especially sensitive to the impacts of pollution, overfishing, and climate change; and they are also being hindered by their slow growth rate, late sexual maturity, and low reproductive rate. In addition to these concerns, sharks are also susceptible to an acutely distressing threat known as finning. This term refers to the removal and retention of shark fins, while the remainder of the shark carcass is discarded at sea. In keeping the shark fins alone, commercial fishermen save limited freezer space aboard their vessels while holding this valuable commodity on deck. Finning is an abhorrent practice which epitomizes the worst aspects of human-animal interaction, seeing as only two to five percent of the animal is utilized while the remainder is thrown back into the sea. Although the extent of finning is uncertain and estimates vary, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) believes the number of sharks killed each year in this manner figures in the tens of millions.
Experts agree that, if unabated, finning will have disastrous consequences for entire maritime ecosystems. Since sharks live at the top of the food chain, their dwindling populations could be a harbinger for macro environmental decline. Furthermore, poor coastal communities in Africa, Latin America, and India depend on shark meat as a food source. In the past few years, these settlements have reported precipitous declines in their shark catches. It is my hope that, during this 111th Congress, legislation can be passed in order to reform current fishing standards, thereby protecting shark species and alleviating food shortages.
As you may know, Representative Madeleine Bordallo (D-GU) introduced H.R. 81 in the U.S. House of Representatives in January 2009. This bill seeks to amend the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act to close several existing loopholes in an effort to combat finning. I am pleased to inform you that H.R. 81 passed the House by voice vote on March 2. Since its passage, the bill has been referred to the Senate, and is currently under review by the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation. Although I am not a member of that committee, pleased be assured that I will continue to keep your thoughts in mind should this bill come before the full Senate for debate.
While the United States has always been at the forefront of this problem, unfortunately, other countries have been slower in addressing finning. Please be assured that I want to protect seriously threatened shark stocks from the excessive mortality arising from this practice.
Thank you again for sharing your views and concerns with me. I hope you will continue to visit my website at http://lieberman.senate.gov for updated news about my work on behalf of Connecticut and the nation. Please contact me if you have any additional questions or comments about our work in Congress.
Joseph I. Lieberman
Though I’m sure this was a form letter, the science is sound and I was happy to see that someone put in such thought to respond to concerned citizens. I hope that you’ll join me in support of protecting these amazing predators.
For more information about shark research, one of my all-time favorite books is the Devil’s Teethby Susan Casey. (Incidentally, the title refers to the name of islands, NOT sharks!) Peter Benchley (author of Jaws) has a wonderful book, Shark Trouble, about his experiences with sharks, the science, and shark conservation. Also, this week is Shark Week on Discovery, so you can get your shark fill there, too. To contact your senator, visit the Ocean Conservancy.