Christmas came early for sharks, as Congress took the last step yesterday to pass a ban on shark finning in the U.S.
Shark finning is the brutal practice of slicing off a shark's fins, often for use in shark fin soup, an Asian delicacy. The shark -- sometimes still alive -- may be thrown back into the sea to bleed to death. Each year, commercial fishing gear kills more than 100 million sharks worldwide, including tens of millions for just their fins.
Having swum with sharks large and small, I can tell you, they are magnificent creatures, and they don't deserve to be killed for a bowl of soup. They have been on the planet for more than 400 million years and as apex predators, they play a vital role in maintaining the health of ocean ecosystems. But due to their slow growth rate and low level of reproduction, sharks are especially vulnerable to fishing pressure.
Many shark populations have declined to levels where they are unable to perform their roles as top predators in the ecosystem. In fact, sharks now represent the greatest percentage of threatened marine species on the IUCN Red List of threatened species.
The Shark Conservation Act, which now goes to President Obama's desk, improves the existing law originally intended to prevent shark finning, and it also allows the U.S. to take action against countries whose shark finning restrictions are not as strenuous.
Without the fins attached, many sharks are difficult to identify, which hinders proper management. Landing sharks with their fins still attached allows for better enforcement and data collection.
I traveled to Capitol Hill last year to meet with members of Congress about the Shark Conservation Act, and I'm pleased to see that they have supported this vital piece of legislation. The passage of this bill demonstrates that the U.S. is a leader in global shark conservation.
I've said it before and I'll say it again -- we shouldn't be scared of sharks, we should be scared for them.
In 2009, actress January Jones ("Mad Men") joined Oceana's shark campaign. Watch video, see photos, and learn more about why January is scared for sharks.