The U.S. Senate has passed the Shark Conservation Act, legislation that bans shark finning in U.S. waters.
The move was welcomed by marine conservationists.
“The Senate has acted decisively today to help protect sharks, the predators at the top of the global marine food chain,” said Matt Rand, director of the Pew Environment Group’s Global Shark Conservation Campaign, in a statement. “The Shark Conservation Act would once and for all end the practice of shark finning in U.S. waters and give the United States the credibility to persuade other nations and international fishery managers to follow suit.”
Shark finning is the practice where the fins are cut off living sharks, which are then left to die. Shark fin soup is a delicacy in parts of Asia.
But finning has taken a heavy toll on shark populations. By one estimate, up to 73 million are killed every year to support the trade. 30 percent of the world’s shark species are threatened or near threatened with extinction.
The loss of sharks, important predators that help maintain the balance of the ocean food chain, is already having impacts. Researchers have found a decline in shellfish off the Atlantic seaboard of the United States associate with a population boom of shellfish predators which are usually kept in check by sharks. Other scientists have documented a decline in the health of coral reefs where sharks have disappeared.