Editor’s Log: Mako Pork - The Fisherman

Editor’s Log: Mako Pork

Yes, I know, some folks don’t like mixing politics with fishing, which is probably how members of Congress are able to make fishing so darned difficult at times though “amendments” to larger bills.

For example, the United States Innovation and Competition Act of 2021 – also known as the Endless Frontier Act – has received a lot of mainstream press of late.  Some of your more argumentative family members from the left and right have probably had heated arguments about the bill over a backyard BBQ this summer, all while probably unaware of the mako pork added to the final Senate version.

The escalating demand for shark fins from Asian markets has fueled a continued spike in the export of shark fins.  Earlier this summer an alleged exporter of 26 tons of illegal shark fins from Ecuador to Hong Kong received a $3,870 fine from the Ecuadorian government, a figure that amounts to less than 1% of the estimated $1.1 million value of the shark fins.

“Shark finning” is the process where soulless foreign fishermen cut fins and tails from live sharks – callously tossing the carcasses overboard – to sell to East Asian nations for use in “shark fin soup.”  A reprehensibly disgusting practice, shark finning has been illegal in the United States since the start of the 21st century.

That’s not to say that possessing a shark fin is illegal, nor is it unlawful for restaurants to serve soup using legally harvested meat, fins and tails from U.S. commercial fishermen.  But since foreign nations continue to export shark fins without permits or through falsified documentation, the possession of fins and other “shark parts” may soon be subject to more intense federal scrutiny.

Debated for years, Senate Bill #1106 sponsored by Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) would permanently prohibit the possession, sale, and purchase of shark fins or tails.  While exempting sale or possession of spiny and smooth dogfish fins and tails, Sen. Booker’s bill was later modified to allow noncommercial possession of shark fins and tails taken by a license/permit holder.  While the Booker legislation has gone nowhere at the federal level, here in the state of New Jersey that same shark fin ban has effectively been in place since the start of 2021.

On the House side of Capitol Hill, another piece of shark fin legislation in play at the federal level is the Shark Sales Elimination Act (H.R. 406) which would federally prohibit the possession and sale of all shark fins or tails, again unless retained by the license or permit holder for a noncommercial purpose.  Like its Senate counterpart, this bill has mostly withered on the vine.

Shark finning is a disgusting act outlawed in the United States for over 20 years, but if these laws were passed what would happen if I nail a thresher tail to my bulkhead or backyard fence?  Do I need to show my HMS Permit and photos of the catch to substantiate it?  These are some of sticky questions raised frequently on Capitol Hill, which is why these well-intended laws with poorly worded legalese – like Sen. Booker’s – have typically gone nowhere.

Yet during a May 12th meeting of the Senate Commerce Committee, Sen. Emanuel Schatz of Hawaii offered an amendment to the Endless Frontier Act to add text from the Shark Fin Sales Elimination Act (with a dogfish exemption). The Schatz amendment was approved 22-6 and the final bill was ultimately passed out of the full Senate by a 68-32 vote and now awaits action in the House.

And so possessing undocumented shark fins may soon become a Capital offense thanks to a little bit of federal mako pork added to a grandiose partisan debate in Washington DC.  And that’s how politics is mixed with fishing, whether we like it or not.

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