12 May, 2011

State of Washington adopted Senate Bill 5688 (sponsored by Senators Ranker, Swecker, Rockefeller, Litzow, Shin, and Kline), as Governor Chris Gregoire for signed that Bill into law today.

Washington State is now the first in the continental U.S. to enact a legislative ban on shark fins. This law represents a significant step towards reducing pressure on rapidly declining shark populations, and complements recent legislative bans adopted by the State of Hawai'i, Guam, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. This law also complements similarly proposed bans in the States of California and Oregon.

Senate Bill (SB) 5688 was introduced to the Washington State Senate on 07 February 2011 by Senator Ranker and co-sponsors to prohibit the sale, purchase, trade, or preparation for consumption of shark fins or shark fin derivative products in Washington. Western ports such as those in Washington and California are major entry points for shark fin distribution in the United States.

Every year, fins from up to 73 million sharks are used for shark fin soup, a dish traditionally served at Chinese weddings and banquets. This soup has grown in popularity, increasing consumer demand for shark fins and contributing to the decimation of shark populations worldwide as millions of sharks are killed every month, many for their fins alone. As a result of these fishing pressures, one-third of shark species are already threatened with extinction.

As sharks play a vital role in the oceans, their depletion could cause irreparable damage to marine ecosystems. "Sharks are one of our oceans' top predators, keeping the entire ecosystem in check, but shark populations have declined dramatically over the last few decades as a result of human greed and lack of understanding," said Christopher Chin, COARE's Executive Director. Animals at the top of the food chain, such as sharks, have few natural predators, so they are slow to mature, and have very few young. "As a result, they are extremely sensitive to fishing pressures, and are slow to recover from overfishing", continued Chin.

While the support for Washington's ban, as well as for its predecessors in Hawai'i, Guam, and CNMI, has been nearly unequivocal, similar pending legislation in California is meeting with some resistance. Opponents to California's Assembly Bill (AB) 376, claim that it is an imposition on Chinese culture, and that some sharks are plentiful; however, "since such a large percentage of sharks are already considered endangered, and since the practice of finning is conducted without regard to species, age, or gender, it is no surprise that even endangered species are being slaughtered", said Chin. DNA sequencing of a recent sampling of fins for sale in San Francisco revealed that endangered species, such as the great hammerhead (Sphyrna mokarran), are represented on San Francisco shelves.

"We find that many Chinese and Chinese-Americans simply don't understand the issues. If people knew more about these animals and their crucial role in the ocean, they would want to protect them", continued Chin. While surveying Chinese restaurants in San Francisco, COARE found a significant number of restaurateurs that served the controversial soup only because they believed their customers expected it. "This bill helps directly address those informational shortcomings, and provides a simple solution for those who requested, 'make it illegal so we don't have to sell it'," reported Chin.

Washington SB 5688 first passed the Senate with a unanimous 47-0 vote on 07 March 2011, and with an overwhelming 95-1 vote on 05 April. "We are absolutely thrilled by Washington's leadership," said Chin. "These resolute and decisive votes set a very clear direction and provide a strong example and act to follow. If legislators in other jurisdictions have been harboring doubt about which direction to take, the choice should now be clear."

COARE began development of its Shark Safe program in early-2007 seeking to protect sharks by raising awareness of threats to shark populations and by reducing the demand for shark products. In 2007, COARE also teamed up with WildAid to launch the Shark Friendly Communities campaign. "By increasing public awareness of the need for shark conservation, we endeavor to change the way people think about sharks, thereby reducing the sale, use, and trade of shark products", Chin said. "We're really excited about this new law and the similar legislation that is pending in Oregon and California. We have been working on this concept for a number of years, and it's wonderful to finally see it to take form."

Christopher Chin
+1 510-495-7875