Update: On March 5, the Senate version of the shark fin bill got a hearing at the Capitol. Read about that here.
Early next month, shark fins will bring a rare mix of folks together at the Texas Capitol.
That’s when Rep. Eddie Lucio, D-Harlingen, Hollywood star (and “Friday Night Lights” alum) Kyle Chandler, his daughter and the Humane Society of the United States will meet to tout Lucio’s recently-filed bill that would, if passed, ban shark fin products in Texas.
“Protecting our sea life has become a critical issue in today’s society. We need to prevent our marine life from being harmed,” said Rep. Lucio in a statement.
Sawyer Chandler, “Argo” star Kyle Chandler’s 11-year-old daughter, inspired the actor to advocate for a ban on shark fins. She even has her own website on the subject.
“When I grow up I want to be a marine biologist and save sharks,” Sawyer says on her website. “I have loved sharks my whole life and the last thing I want on earth is to have them go extinct.”
Rep. Lucio’s bill, HB 852, will outlaw the sale, purchase and possession of shark fins. The legislation also outlaws, in most cases, the possession of almost any fish, or shark, that has had its fins cut off. The offense would be a Texas Parks and Wildlife Class A or B misdemeanor.
Sen. Larry Taylor, R-Friendswood, has filed a companion bill in the senate, SB 572.
Shark fins are often used in shark fin soup, best known as a delicacy in East Asia, particularly China and Hong Kong.
“But it’s also eaten here in the U.S.” and Texas, says Liz Karan, Manager of Global Shark Conservation at the Pew Charitable Trusts.
Karan told StateImpact Texas about a study of shark fin soup in the U.S.conducted by Pew. In Houston, they found shark fin soup made with blue shark, a near-threatened species on the International Union for Conservation of Nature’s Red List of threatened species. In all, the study found eight different shark species in 51 different bowls of soup in 14 cities across America.
The fins are expensive and the meat is cheap. That price difference has led to a macabre method of fishing called shark finning.
Typically, fisherman catch sharks, slice off their fins and toss the flipperless body back into the ocean to die, thereby saving storage space for the priciest appendage. Beyond brutality, shark finning has led to the sharp decline of one of the world’s apex predators.
Sharks play an important role in the marine environment, as they are keystone creatures in the ocean ecosystem.
“The oceanic whitetip shark has been depleted by 99 percent in the Gulf of Mexico since the 1950s,” Karan tells StateImpact Texas. “The repercussions of this could cause chain reactions throughout the ecosystem.”
There is a large variety of shark types and habitats in the world’s oceans, so estimates on their declines vary. Around Costa Rica, shark populations have declined about 60 percent, according to a Global Post report. A New York Times article cited scientists estimating that 90 percent of all sharks in the open ocean no longer exist.
More and more countries around the world are now banning shark finning, and parts of America are joining in. The U.S. banned the act of shark finning with the U.S. Shark Conservation Act, signed into law in 2011, but it doesn’t ban the sale or trade of shark fins.
Several U.S. territories including Guam, American Samoa and the Marianas Islands have bans on selling or purchasing shark fins. Six states including California, Hawaii and Illinois have passed legislation that does the same.
Even in China and Hong Kong, the epicenter of shark fin sales and consumption, locals may be losing their taste for the delicacy. Chinese officials have stopped serving shark fin soup at state dinners.
The Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species, or CITES, convenes this weekend in Bangkok. Proposals to protect five at-risk species of sharks will be considered at that meeting.
Lucio’s office wasn’t available to comment at publishing time.