Thursday, July 24, 2014

Massachusetts Passes Ban on Shark Fin Trade

Flanked by a coalition of ocean protection and animal welfare organizations at the New England Aquarium, Governor Deval Patrick signed into law today a ban on the possession and sale of shark fins in Massachusetts, an historic milestone deemed critical in the decades-long push to close an economic loophole that has led to a massive decline in shark populations.

The signing ceremony took place at the Aquarium overlooking Boston Harbor

"With the passing of this law Massachusetts builds upon its long history of animal protection and environmental stewardship," said Governor Patrick. "I congratulate the passionate animal welfare and ocean conservation leaders who worked together to ensure the conservation of sharks and our oceans for generations to come."

Governor Deval Patrick with 9-year-old Sean Lesniak (far left) and his siblings,
Aquarium president Nigella Hillgarth and Aquarium Overseer Chef Ming Tsai

The bill, also known as, “An act relative to ocean ecology and shark protection,” passed the Massachusetts House and Senate with bipartisan support last week, making Massachusetts the ninth state along with Guam, American Samoa and the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas Islands to restrict market access to the shark fin trade.

Photograph by Aquarium Explorer in Residence Brian Skerry

A broad coalition of ocean conservation and animal welfare advocates, including the MSPCA-Angell, New England Aquarium, The Humane Society of the United States, Fin Free Massachusetts and others, worked tirelessly to establish the ban, under the stewardship of lead sponsor Senator Jason Lewis, and with support from Representative David Nangle and nine-year-old shark advocate Sean Lesniak of Lowell, Mass.

“Today marks an historic milestone in the fight to preserve the health of our oceans,” said Lewis.  “I commend my colleagues at the State House for voting to protect sharks and take a stand against animal cruelty.  I extend my gratitude to the animal welfare organizations and ocean conservation groups who collaborated on this effort.”

Aquarium president and CEO Nigella Hillgarth introduced the governor after giving remarks
about the threat posed by shark finning on marine ecosystems worldwide.

Nigella Hillgarth, President and CEO of the New England Aquarium, lauded state lawmakers for their leadership.  “We are thrilled that the legislature has taken action to protect sharks by restricting market access for their fins,” said Hillgarth.  “Massachusetts’ shark protection efforts also complement and build upon the momentum of the Obama administration’s recent commitment to combating black market fishing and preventing illegally caught fish from entering the U.S. marketplace.”

Chef and Aquarium Overseer Ming Tsai was in attendance to lend his support for the signing of the bill. He spoke about a chef's responsibility to consider ocean sustainability when deciding what to serve in restaurants. “Every day we can decide to cook this or not cook that. And we have one sea,” said Tsai as he addressed attendees at today’s event. “But as chef’s we have a responsibility to make smart choices, and this by far is one of the smartest choices. And the only thing we can do as chefs is continuing to get that out to all the chefs of this country.”

Chef Ming Tsai addresses attendees in support of the bill

“The trend lines are clear: both the federal and state governments are ramping up efforts to protect sharks and save species so vital to maintaining healthy marine ecosystems,” said Laura Hagen, deputy director of advocacy for the MSPCA-Angell.

After addressing the crowd, Sean Lesniak pumped his fist in support of the bill

Sean Lesniak has been a strong proponent of the bill since writing a letter to State Representative David M. Nangle. He was later invited by Nangle to speak in front of 400 people at a House Judiciary Committee hearing, where he explained the importance of saving sharks.

Sharks are usually alive when the fins are cut off, and are thrown back in the water afterward, where they die slow deaths because they are unable to swim. Photo: Brian Skerry

Shark “finning” refers to the slicing off of a shark’s fins, often while the shark is still alive.  The animal is then thrown back into the ocean where, unable to swim, the shark dies a slow and painful death. The demand for shark fins, used to make shark fin soup, a bowl of which can cost upwards of $100, drives the unsustainable exploitation of sharks worldwide. The practice of shark finning is prohibited by both federal and state law, but the market for fins continues to promote the practice in foreign and international waters.

Cheers all around after the signing of the bill

The law went into effect immediately after signed by Governor Patrick.

The bill

Read media coverage about the ban and the signing:
Mass. becomes ninth state to ban shark fin tradeThe Boston Globe
Massachusetts to ban shark fin trade — The Boston Globe
No Shark Fin Soup for YouBoston Magazine
Lowell boy in spotlight as Patrick signs bill to protect sharksThe Lowell Sun 
New Massachusetts Law Bans Shark Finning — WCVB Channel 5

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