Last Friday marked a wonderful and historic day for California -- the day the Golden State of California joined the growing ranks of nations and states around the world taking a definitive stand to protect sharks. Governor Jerry Brown signed a bill that will help put an end to the fin trade that drives the killing of between 26 -73 million sharks each year just for their fins.
"The practice of cutting the fins off of living sharks and dumping them back in the ocean is not only cruel, but it harms the health of our oceans," said Governor Brown. "Researchers estimate that some shark populations have declined by more than 90 percent, portending grave threats to our environment and commercial fishing. In the interest of future generations, I have signed this bill."
Beautiful apex predators have swum in our oceans for over 400 million years -- sharks have been around since before the time of dinosaurs -- but many species are now at risk of vanishing due to extreme fishing pressure, driven by the needless demand for shark fins.
While many countries have already banned the practice, it continues unabated in unregulated international waters. By banning the possession and sale of shark fins, California joins Hawaii, Washington, Oregon and Guam in an effort to reduce demand and protect shark populations.
"Sharks are magnificent animals that play a pivotal role in the health of ocean ecosystems from their position at the top of marine food web. Sharks are also inherently sensitive to overfishing as the grow slowly, mature late in life and produce few young," says National Geographic's Explorer-in-residence and honorary NRDC trustee Sylvia Earle.
I could not be more thrilled and I am extremely grateful to Governor Brown, and to the sponsors of Assembly Bill 376 -- Assembly Members Paul Fong and Jared Huffman - as well as dozens of other legislators from both political parties, whose strong courage and thought-leadership made it possible to ban the sale and trade of shark fins in the state of California.
The Governor heard the voices of many thousands of Californians - including Asian Pacific American community leaders, scientists, fishermen, and citizens -- who agree that we must do more to protect sharks, before it's too late. This bill was supported by a wide range of organizations and experts including the Monterey Bay Aquarium, NRDC, Wild Aid, the Humane Society of the U.S., Jean-Michel Cousteau, and I am very proud to say from emerging advocates in the freediving world like William Trubridge, Martin & Niki Stepanek, Fred Buyle , William Winram, and Mandy-Rae Cruickshank & Kirk Krack of Performance Freediving who represent millions of divers the world over.
In addition to AB 376, Governor Brown also signed a companion bill by Assemblyman Fong, AB 853, which allows existing stocks of on-hand shark fins to be sold until July 1, 2013.
My friends and I have been working towards this goal for quite some time -- it's been a tremendous team effort! I would like to say thank you to everyone who generously offered their support. I invite you all to come to California see the majesty of sharks in their natural habitat and experience the wonder of them for yourselves.
Photo of great white shark and breath-hold diver (William Winram) courtesy of Fred Buyle.