WASHINGTON (April 17, 2018) – Ahead of a House Natural Resources Committee hearing on various shark conservation bills, 62 marine scientists with expertise on sharks and rays submitted a letter to the committee calling for passage of the H.R. 5248, the Sustainable Shark Fisheries and Trade Act.

The scientists urge a science-based approach to fisheries conservation and management, as prescribed by H.R. 5248, to significantly reduce the overfishing and unsustainable trade of sharks, rays, and skates around the world and prevent shark finning.

The letter states, “Although it is not the largest importer of shark products, the U.S. is a major shark and skate fishing and exporting country and therefore can lead in both modeling and promoting sustainable shark fisheries management and responsible trade for these species. Continuing to exercise this leadership can help to reverse the declining trend in many shark, skate, and ray populations around the world. We heartily endorse the Sustainable Shark Fisheries and Trade Act of 2018 and strongly urge its prompt passage by Congress.”

The 62 signatories come from research institutions, conservation organizations, and academia. This group also includes 12 past presidents of the American Elasmobranch Society.

The Sustainable Shark Fisheries and Trade Act, introduced by Rep. Daniel Webster (R-FL) and Rep. Ted Lieu (D-CA), would require that imports of shark, ray, and skate parts and products to the U.S. be permitted only from countries certified by National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) as having in place and enforcing management and conservation policies for these species comparable to the U.S., including science-based measures to prevent overfishing and provide for recovery of stocks, and a similar prohibition on shark finning.

By requiring that imports of shark, skate, and ray parts and products be subject to the same standards that U.S. domestic fishers already meet, the legislation aims to level the playing field for U.S. producers and use access to the U.S. market as leverage to encourage other countries to adopt and implement strong conservation and management measures that support sustainable fisheries and trade in shark and ray products.

John Calvelli, Wildlife Conservation Society’s Executive Vice President of Public Affairs, said: “We must take action now to end the global overfishing of sharks and rays that is depleting populations of these iconic animals. This bill is a bipartisan solution that both conservationists and the fishing industry can agree upon. The incentives laid out by the legislation can create a ripple effect that can make the world’s oceans a better home for sharks, rays and skates.”

Luke Warwick, Associate Director of WCS’s Sharks and Rays Program, said: “Sharks play an essential part in the health of our oceans, and they need our help. Research has clearly shown that effective fisheries management can stem the global declines facing shark and ray populations, but outside the US and a few other countries, such management is lacking. This law would incentivize fishing nations to better manage their shark and ray fisheries, which when coupled with our work globally to support those governments to understand their shark fisheries, and develop strong conservation and management measures, can help save these inherently vulnerable animals.”

WCS, along with its partners in the conservation community and allies in the fishing industry, have launched a campaign to support the Sustainable Shark Fisheries and Trade Act in order to conserve sharks, rays and skates. The coalition includes more than 50 partner organizations and aligns with the Association of Zoos and Aquariums’ Saving Animals From Extinction (SAFE) initiative, which leverages the reach, expertise, and resources of accredited zoos and aquariums to save species in the wild.

There are more than 1,250 species of cartilaginous fish—sharks and their relatives, which include skates and rays. Of these, as many as one-quarter are estimated to be threatened with extinction, and the conservation status of nearly half is poorly known. These fishes play important ecological roles in the marine and freshwater habitats in which they occur, and many species are culturally and economically important. These fishes are particularly vulnerable to over-exploitation—they grow slowly, mature late, and produce few young. Overfishing is the primary threat to sharks and their relatives, which are caught to supply demand for fins, meat, oil, cartilage, and other products.

Overfishing through targeted fisheries and incidental catches in fisheries targeting other species such as tunas are by far the biggest threat to sharks and rays worldwide. Although some species are so threatened that they cannot be sustainably fished, others can support sustainable fisheries if subject to adequate management.