Scalloped hammerhead shark. Kevin Lino / NOAA / Flickr

Sharks: Last on Trump’s List, First on His Plate

On his trip to Asia, President Trump ate shark fin soup in Vietnam. While this meal is considered a status symbol, delicacy and a sign of wealth in Asian culture (it can sell for over $100 a serving in restaurants), the continued consumption of shark fin soup has a devastating effect on shark populations around the world.

Shark fin soup is believed by some to have medicinal healing properties and its proponents view its consumption as a cultural right. Sharks rely heavily on international and regional treaties for protections and management measures, and in some countries domestic regulations have been adopted.

Sharks are amazing ocean predators, and they're some of the most powerful creatures in the sea. But 25 percent of shark species are currently listed as endangered, threatened or near threatened by extinction. Because sharks are generally slow to reproduce, the constant onslaught of threats that include shark finning, bycatch and threats to the ocean ecosystem are causing a severe decline in populations that are already hard to monitor.

While it is impossible to know how many sharks are killed yearly due to illegal and unrecorded catch, it is estimated that up to 73 million sharks are killed annually by "finning" alone—a brutal practice that involves cutting off a shark's fins, usually while it is still alive, and throwing the body back overboard where it bleeds to death, drowns or is eaten. This is clearly a cruel practice, and the fact that millions of sharks are being killed is also a main issue for wildlife conservation.

The U.S., overall a low market for shark fin soup compared to countries in Asia, still has some ways to go before it is completely removed from the shark fin trade. Especially when the president dines on shark fin soup and previously served it at his failed Trump Taj Mahal casino in Atlantic City, New Jersey. In response to someone saying they would not visit the restaurant until shark fin soup was removed from the menu, Trump tweeted:

In 2000, the Shark Finning Prohibition Act was signed into law by President Bill Clinton. It banned the possession on U.S. ships of shark fins without the carcass and made it illegal to partake in shark finning within the U.S. Exclusive Economic Zone.

In 2007, after five years of working with Mexico's government, Defenders of Wildlife helped pass legislation that outlawed shark finning in Mexico's waters.

In 2010, President Barack Obama signed into law the Shark Conservation Act of 2010, which forbade the purchase of shark fins from other vessels, to close a loophole in the Shark Finning Prohibition Act.

In 2011, Defenders of Wildlife, along with a coalition of 12 other environmental organizations, began a campaign to pass a law banning the possession, trade, sale and distribution of shark fins in California. As a result of these efforts, on Oct. 7, 2011, Governor Jerry Brown signed AB376 into law.

In June 2016, Congress introduced the bipartisan Shark Fin Trade Elimination Act. The bill would ban the buying and selling of shark fins in the U.S. altogether and impose fines of up to $100,000 for participating in the shark fin trade.

Just last month at the Conference of the Parties to the Conference of Migratory Species of Wild Animals in Manila, Philippines, Defenders of Wildlife successfully advocated for six species of sharks to gain international collaboration for conservation—the whale shark, dusky shark, blue shark, angelshark, guitarfish and white spotted wedgefish. This week, Defenders of Wildlife is at the International Commission for the Conservation of Atlantic Tunas in Marrakesh, Morocco, where we are advocating for fins attached to sharks as well as promoting prohibition of retention measures for mako sharks that are severely overfished.

In order to stop shark finning, we must work to reduce the demand for the fins—which means publicly denouncing the practice and showing support for conservation efforts. Former NBA star Yao Ming has led the charge to gain visibility for this issue along with Leonardo DiCaprio, Jackie Chan, Rosario Dawson, Edward Norton, James Cameron, Richard Branson and Jackson Browne. Chefs Wolfgang Puck, Mario Batali, Gordon Ramsey and others have pledged never to serve shark fin soup in their restaurants.

And yet President Trump imprudently, obtusely and very publicly dines on a dish causing appalling harm to our already fragile ocean ecosystem.

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