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An estimated 100 million sharks are killed every year by humans as fins from up to 70 million sharks are used in shark fin soup. The consumption of this soup has contributed to the inhumane practice of finning, which has decimated shark populations around the world. As a result, we are facing a global crisis with dozens of shark species threatened with extinction.
When fishermen remove fins and throw a live shark back into the ocean, the animal is unable to swim or breathe, and it suffers a painful death, bringing a tragic end to an ecologically important life. A shark’s value to our environment far surpasses the value and use of its fins.
These apex predators are critical to the entire oceanic ecosystem — serving as an indicator of the overall health of the ocean — all the way down to that of the coral reefs. If sharks continue to be attacked, their populations will continue to collapse, and shark species will forever disappear from the planet. Removing the shark from the oceanic ecosystem would have a catastrophic impact on anyone or anything that relies upon the ocean.
There are effective solutions that can protect sharks. Beyond the serious ecological considerations to maintaining a vibrant shark population, the tourism that comes from sharks holds tremendous commercial value. “Dive tourism,” where people can safely swim with sharks, can be extremely profitable. According to Oceana, a single reef shark in the Bahamas is worth approximately $250,000 over its lifetime — a stark contrast to its one-time value of $50 when caught by a fisherman. The economic and ecological benefits of shark eco-tourism far outpace that of a bowl of soup.
All these impacts — including the ecological, economic and human — present real and unmistakable threats to the global ecosystem that we must work together to confront.
There are roles for all of us to play: Governments can pass laws that close loopholes and better support and coordinate law enforcement efforts; NGOs can lend crucial insight and know-how; and the private sector can use their area of expertise to take proactive steps to address the issue and engage consumers in a way that can inspire many to protect these majestic creatures.
We are taking steps in the right direction, both in the United States and internationally, but everyone needs to do more.
There are currently bills in the U.S. Congress that would elevate U.S. leadership on this global ecological issue. One of those bills, the Shark Fin Sales Elimination Act, was reintroduced earlier this year in both the House and Senate, and would ban the sale, purchase and possession of shark fins and shark fin products in the U.S. It is time for Congress to work together to pass legislation to protect the future of sharks and our oceans. There is bipartisan support for conservation issues, with over 200 members supporting the International Conservation Caucus and Oceans Caucus.
For nearly 35 years Discovery has had cameras in every corner of the globe, documenting the beauty and splendor of our planet. Unfortunately, our cameras also have captured the fragile state of much of the world and its animals, seeing on the ground and in the sea what a variety of well-respected conservation groups document in black and white. The plight of sharks and saving them is just one of hundreds that must be addressed now before it is too late.
Discovery is uniquely positioned to amplify the importance of protecting sharks. Every summer since 1988, Discovery, through the flagship channel of the same name, airs “Shark Week,” a week of cutting-edge shark programming in more than 72 countries intended to educate, inspire and engage audiences across all platforms on the importance and impact that sharks have on the global ecosystem.
Corporate and media leadership, and everyone involved in the entertainment industry, must understand the privilege and extraordinary access we possess; we have a profound responsibility to look to the future and search out the ways our companies can be impactful and make a positive difference. Working together, government officials and Hollywood can make a lasting and significant impact by bringing attention to this critical issue.
We are committed to ensuring that wildlife is here for future generations; it’s not too late to save these magnificent creatures.
David Zaslav is president and CEO of Discovery, Inc., parent company of Discovery Channel and Shark Week.
Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Texas) is ranking member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.
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