THE BLOG

Let's Treat Every Week Like Shark Week

08/14/2014 05:20 pm ET | Updated Oct 14, 2014
Fotosearch via Getty Images

It's Shark Week, and once again, millions of Americans are glued to their TVs watching one of Earth's most magnificent creatures. The Discovery Channel's weeklong programming gives us fascinating insight into a fundamentally misunderstood animal -- and serves an important reminder that Jaws wasn't a documentary.

But what you might not see is footage of shark finning: the cruel, unsustainable, and wasteful practice of cutting the fins off of living sharks and dumping them back into the ocean. This gruesome practice is destroying shark populations. Up to an estimated 100 million sharks -- that's between 6.4 percent and 7.9 percent of all sharks -- are killed every year. Of these, as many as 73 million sharks are slaughtered each year solely to supply the global demand for shark fins.

In 2011, we were the proud authors of California's landmark law, the California Shark Protection Act, which banned the possession, sale, and distribution of shark fin in our state. Since then, the California Department of Fish and Wildlife has seized more than 2,100 pounds of illegally held shark fins from one seafood distributor. Similar laws have been enacted in eight U.S. states, and they are working. Further, these laws are supporting the Shark Finning Prohibition Act of 2000 and the Shark Conservation Act of 2011, signed into law by Presidents Bill Clinton and Barack Obama, respectively.

This is no time to undermine the progress that California and the U.S. have made in preventing the destructive practice of shark finning. We've seen sales for shark fins in China -- the largest market for shark fins -- drop dramatically over the last few years, demonstrating important progress.

However, bad trade policy could permanently devastate our shark populations. Currently, the U.S. and 11 other countries on the Pacific Rim are negotiating an international free trade agreement known as the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP). We have many concerns regarding the TPP, including the weakening of environmental and labor standards. We have even greater concerns about the lack of transparency regarding the TPP discussions that are underway -- so much so, that we are relying on leaks to get any information.

According to the latest leaked information, the TPP's environmental chapter does not require nations to follow legally-binding environmental provisions or other global environmental treaties, substantially weakening the United States' shark finning ban. Relaxing trade rules around the Pacific Rim without this shark fin ban could be devastating for remaining shark populations. As the ocean's top predators, sharks have kept fish populations healthy and in proper proportion for the marine ecosystem. Depleting the shark's population could have untold and unimaginable consequences for our ocean ecosystems, and we cannot let this happen.

We must oppose trade agreements like the TPP that undermine our conservation laws and the ban on shark finning. Let's remember to treat every week like it is Shark Week and take a stand to end the cruel practice of shark finning. The world's shark population -- and our environment -- depend on it.