But we can no longer afford to make excuses. Over half of the world’s people depend on the oceans to provide their primary protein sources. If hunger is a global crisis now, imagine what will happen when those food sources disappear as the marine food chain is drastically altered. Today, we risk losing sharks – and tens of thousands of other species we depend on – to what scientists are calling the sixth great extinction (think dinosaurs).
This is unique to the last five extinction periods in history for one reason: Humans are causing it by driving sharks and millions of other living creatures toward the endangered list in order to uphold tradition and economic structures. As shark numbers decrease, fin traders and fisherman may ultimately run themselves out of business, but not before other parts of the ecosystem collapse.
Americans may not be able to stop the huge demand in China, but they can cut off supply and curb demand in their own corner of the world.
Much is already been done. Last year, President Obama signed the Shark Conservation Act to close the loopholes of the 2000 Shark Finning Prohibition Act. Last Friday, the environmental groups Oceana and Shark Stewards petitioned the federal government to list the declining northeastern Pacific Ocean population of great white sharks as an endangered species. The genetically distinct population off the coast of California has dwindled to only about 340 individuals and is in danger of extinction.
At the state level, in 2011 Hawaii became the first state to ban the possession, sale, and distribution of shark fins. Similar laws have also been enacted with bipartisan support in Washington, Oregon, California, and Illinois. Organizations including The Humane Society and Shark Stewards are preparing to introduce such a bill in Texas. But more states must enact such laws.