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An Insider’s Perspective on the Oregon Shark Fin Ban

When a great injustice is being done and when the rational pleas of compassionate people fail to persuade the perpetrators of the injustice to change their ways, and even when there is no shame public enough to change the behavior that causes the injustice, that is where the law begins.

In that light, Oregon’s legislature just voted to ban the possession, trade and sale of shark fin. WildAid was there to help usher this bill from the legislature to the Governor’s desk, and our message resonated through the capitol chambers during the deliberations sounding the alarm that a legislated ban on shark fin possession is a necessary step in the defense of shark populations everywhere.

Few sharks are caught off the coast of Oregon, but that didn’t matter. It was the sharks in the Indian Ocean and the Galapagos that the Oregon legislature was standing for, and it was a message meant to be heard in California, Hong Kong and Beijing. Oregon will not idly stand by as the sharks are decimated.

On one hand is the recognized and understood tradition of eating shark fin soup at weddings and other celebrations to ensure happiness and wealth and to project the impression that you are prosperous. This is a tradition familiar to most people who have lived in Asia, or have Asian roots. Either you have heard about shark fin soup, you’ve eaten shark fin soup or may know of the tradition.

The result of pursuing this tradition to its logical conclusion is extinction, a species’ cessation of existence. It is that simple. Many shark populations are endangered and at the brink of extinction. With up to seventy million sharks culled for their fins each year, randomly, without regard for population ratios, many species are doomed to extinction unless the current killing rates are decreased.

I picked up WildAid’s mantle in Oregon at about the same time that the anti-shark finning bill was being drafted by Representative Brad Witt, who through the success of this bill has emerged as a visionary environmental leader in Oregon It was years ago that I first saw the ravages of shark finning at a street side market near Burma’s Shwe Dagon pagoda where hundreds of shark fins hung nailed to the shabby wood stall. There was an imbalance in the fins, all of them dangling in mid-air instead of attached to the magnificent sharks peeling through the open oceans.That imbalance stayed with me until finally, here in Oregon, we were ready to take a stand.

WildAid Canada’s Executive Director Rob Sinclair and I testified before the Oregon House in support of the bill. “We need a solidified west coast,” Rob testified. “We need to send a message that shark fins are not welcome here. Oregon is critical to that message.” The legislators agreed and the bill passed out of the committee with a unanimous “do pass” resolution. When it reached the House floor, the vote was unanimous in support of sending the bill to the Senate.

At the Senate hearing before the Environment and Natural resources Committee the bill received a warm reception. Again I testified on behalf of WildAid and presented the message that the ban is important, it’s necessary and the message must be sent. The bill passed out of committee with unanimous support on its way to the full Senate. When Senator Prozanski rose to present the bill to the full Senate all he said was “This is the shark fin ban.” That’s it. No argument needed. This bill will pass. The Senate voted unanimously to send the bill to the Governor.

That’s where we are now with the bill on its way to the Governor for his signature ushering in this important law. Oregon’s Governor is a good man with an environmental awareness deeper than most. He will sign the bill and Oregon will make a statement to the world. Like Hawaii and Washington State, shark fins are not welcome here, unless they are attached to a swimming shark.

So the next action has to be for California and British Columbia to follow suit and announce to the world that the west coast of the United States is off limits for shark fin soup. Yes, there are choices to make, and frankly, it is up to the usual consumers of shark fin soup to accept that the soup is a luxury whose time is gone. When the cost is extinction, any tradition has to change – whether we’re talking about extinction of sharks, rhinos, tigers or sea turtles. And it is man who controls the urges to follow or abandon that tradition. Yes, it is a question that we should have addressed long ago, but, no, it is not too late to address it now. Oregon law supports the balance between tradition and extinction; the rest of the world needs to follow along.

David R. Kracke

Attorney at Law

International Board Member, WildAid