Yesterday, marine ecology activist organization Oceana sent out a message to its supporters, asking them to send a letter to their United States senators urging support for S. 850, the Shark Conservation Act. The bill, originally authored by Representative Madeleine Bordallo of Guam and introduced to the Senate by John Kerry, would alter already existing laws to ban shark finning, the practice of grabbing sharks from the ocean, cutting their fins off, and then dumping the rest of the animal back into the water. The fins are then sold and used to make soup.
The Shark Conservation Act was acted upon quickly by the House of Representatives and passed a year and a half ago. The next day, on March 3, 2009, the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science, and Transportation received the legislation.
What happened after that? Nothing. John Rockefeller, the chair of the committee, chose to ignore the bill. Rockefeller has had the power to make sure that the Shark Conservation Act comes up for a vote, but instead, he’s used his power to prevent that from happening.
Now, the 111th Congress is at a close. Tomorrow, the Senate will have a pro forma meeting, at which someone bangs a gavel, a few minutes pass, and the gavel bangs again.
And where does that leave the sharks? Thanks to Senator John Rockefeller, it leaves millions more of them dead every year, with some species reduced to just 1 percent of the populations they had a generation ago. Many are on the verge of extinction, and with them goes the balance of the marine ecosystems that form the foundation of life on our planet.
Perhaps Representative Bordallo will reintroduce the Shark Conservation Act to the House of Representatives next year. If she does, however, she’ll have to start from square one, and the bill will face a more hostile Republican leadership. It may be another decade before the Shark Conservation Act has a chance of passage. By then, it may well be too late.