Legislators in Albany, sitting many miles from an ocean, will soon decide whether or not to protect sharks. The state session is scheduled to end on June 21 stand there are bills in the Senate and Assembly that would ban the trade, sale, possession and distribution of shark fins. I can't think of a better way to celebrate World Oceans Day than to pass these bills and support shark conservation.
Why ban shark fins? The demand for shark fins is feeding the global overexploitation of sharks. Sharks have been swimming the world's oceans for millions of years, serving their role as skilled predators, while keeping our oceans in balance. But they have met their match -- shark fin soup, an expensive Chinese delicacy and status symbol commonly served at banquets and other celebrations.
New York is the largest importer of shark fins on the East Coast. By kicking fins out, the state can send a message to the world that an ocean without sharks is not an acceptable future.
Banning the trade of shark fins is not a new idea, in fact, California, Oregon, Washington and Hawaii have already passed similar bans. Yes, the entire West Coast has closed its doors to shark fins. And earlier this year, Illinois lawmakers passed legislation banning the trade of shark fins, which is now awaiting the Governor's signature. Now it is New York's turn.
Sen. Mark Grisanti and Assembly Members Alan Maisel, Grace Meng and Linda Rosenthal have led the fight to protect sharks by introducing legislation to ban the trade of shark fins. Just this week, the Senate Environmental Conservation Committee passed the bill under Sen. Grisanti's leadership, who also serves as chair of the committee.
The bills are bipartisan, have 60 cosponsors between them and are supported by every Chinese-American legislator in the Empire State, including New York City Council Member Margaret Chin, who introduced a city resolution in support of the state legislation. It would be a shame if politics hold up this important legislation.
Thousands of New York residents have contacted their state legislators in support of the bills. Celebrities like Leonardo DiCaprio, January Jones, Jared Leto and Maggie Q have also weighed in to support their passage. While conservation and humane groups like Oceana and The Humane Society of the United Stateshave expressed their support of the legislation, decision makers in Albany have yet to finish the job.
As of today, Assemblyman Robert Sweeney, chair of the Committee on Environmental Conservation, has not moved the bill through committee. Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver and Senate Majority Leader Dean Skelos must use their leadership to pass these bills this year, before it is too late.
With World Oceans Day upon us, it only makes sense to enact policies that will protect our oceans for future generations. Keeping sharks in the oceans is more valuable than taking them out for a bowl of soup. New York, the time has come to end the shark fin trade. Act now, before time runs out.
Beth Lowell, Campaign Director at OCEANA, the largest international advocacy group working solely to protect the world's oceans.