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June 2016

Tuesday, June 28, 2016

NOAA’s (Sh)Ark

With Discovery Channel’s “Shark Week” in full swing and right on the heels of last week’s introduction of a new congressional bill restricting the trade in shark fins, the Obama administration has taken an additional action to help sharks. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration today announced a final rule to implement the Shark Conservation Act of 2010, which the Humane Society Legislative Fund, along with our partners The Humane Society of the United States and Humane Society International, helped to pass.

Shark-blog-Vanessa-Mignon
Photo by Vanessa Mignon

The 2010 law prohibits any person from removing the fins of a shark at sea, possessing detached fins on board a fishing vessel, transferring detached fins between vessels at sea, or landing a shark without its fins naturally attached anywhere along the U.S. coastline. It closes several loopholes and fortifies the ban on shark finning in U.S. waters, and further cracks down on the barbaric practice of hacking the fins off of sharks, often while they’re still alive, and throwing the mutilated animals back overboard to languish and die.

Just as the destructive ivory trade decimates elephant populations and induces horrific elephant poaching, the trade in shark fins incentivizes shark finning and leads to massive slaughter of sharks around the world. Each year, up to 73 million sharks worldwide are brutally finned and left to die an agonizing death—just for a bowl of soup. Fishermen do not discriminate by species, and the unique characteristics of sharks—maturing slowly and producing relatively few young—make them highly susceptible to fishing pressure. It is now estimated that a quarter of all shark and ray species are threatened with extinction.

According to data from the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization, the U.S. is one of the top shark catching countries. We are also among the world’s top importers and exporters of shark fins and other shark products. There is an urgent need to ramp up domestic efforts to protect keystone species integral to keeping the marine ecosystem’s balance in check. That’s why it’s so important to address our role in fueling demand, and today’s final rule on the Shark Conservation Act, coupled with the introduction of the federal Shark Fin Trade Elimination Act, move us forward toward ensuring our country does not partake in finning cruelty.

Eleven states and U.S. territories have also banned the possession and sale of shark fins, helping to dry up the demand for finning across the globe. In the final rule concerning the Shark Conservation Act, announced today, the administration reaffirms that the state and territory shark fin laws are not in conflict with or preempted by federal law, making clear that state and federal governments both have roles to play in stamping out this cruelty. Just yesterday the New Jersey Senate overwhelmingly passed legislation to prohibit shark fin sales.

As HSLF, The HSUS, and HSI have been campaigning to end shark finning globally, we’ve seen tremendous progress and achieved comparable finning bans in the European Union, India, and numerous Latin American countries. We also actively advocate for greater protections for many vulnerable shark species at major international environmental and fisheries conventions. We applaud the administration for finalizing this important rule, demonstrating its continued commitment to combat shark finning and cementing the U.S. as a leader in global shark conservation.

Thursday, June 23, 2016

Keep Fins on Sharks—Not in a Bowl of Soup

Rhode Island last week banned the trade in shark fins, joining ten other states and three Pacific territories in sending a message that this cruel product is not welcome within their borders. These state policy actions are helping to dry up the demand for shark finning—the barbaric practice of hacking the fins off sharks, often while they’re still alive, and throwing the mutilated animals back overboard to languish and die.

Shark-Vanessa-Mignon
Photo by Vanessa Mignon

Now Congress also has an opportunity to further the campaign to crack down on shark finning. Today, U.S. Sens. Cory Booker, D-N.J., and Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.V., and U.S. Reps. Ed Royce, R-Calif., and Gregorio Kilili Sablan, D-Northern Mariana Islands, along with a bipartisan group of original cosponsors, introduced the Shark Fin Trade Elimination Act, to largely prohibit the shark fin trade, including imports into and exports from the U.S., transport in interstate commerce, and interstate sales. 

Although the act of shark finning is prohibited in U.S. waters, the market for fins incentivizes finning in countries that have lax finning laws and fishing regulations. If enacted, the Shark Fin Trade Elimination Act would make the U.S. a global leader and set an example for other nations to end the shark fin trade. The HSUS and HSLF are part of a broad coalition of groups advocating for the legislation, including SeaWorld, the Guy Harvey Ocean Foundation, and Oceana.  

We must do all we can to protect these marine creatures from this unspeakable cruelty. With their fins cut off, sharks cannot swim, and die from shock, blood loss, starvation, or predation by other fish. Tens of millions of sharks are killed globally each year to support the international market for shark fins, most often used as an ingredient in shark fin soup. 

Once a fin is detached from a shark, it is almost impossible to determine if the fin was removed lawfully or taken while the shark was alive. Shark fins sold in the U.S come from all over the world, including countries that have no bans on finning. Research has found fins from threatened and endangered shark species for sale in the marketplace in the U.S.   

Sharks have inhabited our oceans for 400 million years, but now scientists warn that existing shark populations cannot sustain the current level of exploitation. The International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List of Threatened Species has estimated that a quarter of all shark and ray species are threatened with extinction. 

While Congress has a role to play in further taking a bite out of the shark fin trade, we are also urging the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration to finalize a long-overdue rule to implement the Shark Conservation Act of 2010. The law prohibits any person from removing the fins of a shark at sea, possessing detached fins on board a fishing vessel, transferring detached fins between vessels at sea, or landing a shark without its fins naturally attached anywhere along the U.S. coastline. The legislation was enacted more than five years ago, and the rule to implement the act’s domestic provisions was proposed three years ago. There is no reason that the agency should delay the implementation of this rule any longer.

Shark finning is a global epidemic and constitutes one of the worst forms of human destruction of our oceans. It has no place in our commerce and should have no cover under federal law. It’s inhumane and wasteful to kill a shark merely for a bowl of soup. Congress should act now to bring an end to this practice.

Keeping Wolves at Bay – Without Killing

Through determination, innovation, and creativity, our society is solving some of the biggest challenges facing animals. Non-animal tests for cosmetics, chemicals, and household products are faster, cheaper, safer, and more reliable than laboratory experiments on animals. Computer-generated imagery is making exciting movies and TV commercials without the suffering and abuse of captive exotic wildlife. Eco-tourism appeals to millions of visitors and is a bigger boost to the economy in African nations than trophy hunting. The food industry is moving away from confining pigs and hens in cages where they are virtually immobilized for their entire lives, cutting the tails of dairy cows, and other cruel practices, and finding better ways to do business. Plant-based foods and faux fur are competing against animal products as an alternative in the marketplace.

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Photo by Alamy

One area that could use a lot more of this kind of thinking is wildlife management, where officials too often seem stuck in a 19th century paradigm that prioritizes extermination over cohabitation. That’s why I was delighted to see that USDA’s Wildlife Services agency has begun deploying creative new non-lethal methods to deter predators in northern Wisconsin, to great effect. This is the same agency that has been repeatedly criticized by The HSUS and others for its overreliance on inhumane, indiscriminate “management” tools like steel-jawed leghold traps and M-44 cyanide canisters. This is the agency that just came off its most lethal year to date. So you can imagine what a turnaround it is for Wildlife Services to adopt the use of Foxlights to cheaply, effectively, and humanely deter wolves and reduce human-wolf conflict.

The shift to non-lethal deterrents by Wildlife Services follows The HSUS’s federal court victory in December 2014. That case won an injunction keeping Endangered Species Act protections in place for Great Lakes ecosystem wolves, halting an imminent trophy hunting season that state officials deemed necessary to control the allegedly big bad wolves. Set aside for a moment the fact that the impact of wolves on livestock is routinely overestimated, or that recent studies show that trophy hunting increases poaching and worsens human-wildlife conflict by throwing the animals’ delicate social structures into chaos. And forget that some legislators claimed that the sky was falling after that court decision, threatening to subvert the opinions of scientific experts and federal courts by removing wolves from the ESA through legislative fiat. The important lesson here is that trophy hunting and commercial trapping only seem necessary because they are too often perceived to be the only tools in the toolbox.

We still have lawmakers in Congress trying over and over again to punch holes in the Endangered Species Act and strip wolves and other species of their federal protections, circumventing the courts and the public process. Political riders to force the delisting of wolves are included in the House’s energy bill, the Interior spending bills in both chambers, and other bills moving through Congress. We must redouble our efforts to stop these anti-wildlife riders in their tracks and make sure that politics doesn’t trump science.

While wildlife management is undoubtedly lagging behind other sectors when it comes to humane innovations, The HSUS, our sister entity, is leading the charge with proactive programs like wild horse population control using PZP, humane resolution techniques in “nuisance” control, fertility control with white-tailed deer, and elephant immunocontraception in Africa, as well as legal and policy actions to prevent unnecessary and unjustified killing of large carnivores like cougars and grizzly bears. This is the 21st century, and meeting the challenge of coexistence with wildlife does not have to mean extermination. There are always alternatives – you just have to look for them.

As we are seeing in Wisconsin, wolves can retain federal protections, and we can still solve conflicts and address the practical problems that ranchers and others are having in the states where wolves are present. Trophy hunting and commercial trapping don’t need to be in the mix, and there are better solutions available. It’s encouraging to see the federal agency that is charged with solving wildlife conflicts looking for a better way forward. And it’s time for Congress and for officials and legislators in the states to listen.  

Contact your legislators today and tell them to oppose any legislation to remove wolves from the Endangered Species Act>>

Tuesday, June 14, 2016

Congressional Report to Trophy Hunters: “Show Me the Money”

It’s been nearly a year since a Minnesota dentist bled out and killed Zimbabwe’s Cecil the lion. In the wake of it, there was a bright spotlight shined on trophy hunting. More than ever, the world is seeing trophy hunting in its true light: as a senseless hobby of the 0.1 percent who spend their fortunes traveling the world in head-hunting exercises. 

Lion-Vanessa-Mignon-270x240
Photo by Vanessa Mignon

They are not hunting animals for meat or for wildlife management, but to amass the biggest and rarest collections of some of the world’s most majestic species. Many of these trophy-mad hunters are competing for awards from Safari Club International and other membership organizations like the Dallas Safari Club. To win SCI’s coveted “Africa Big Five” award for example, a trophy hunter must kill an African lion, leopard, elephant, rhinoceros, and Cape buffalo.

The trophy hunters make the Orwellian argument that they must kill animals in order to save them, that they are sprinkling dollars on local economies with their “pay-to-slay” activities and that these funds also pay for conservation efforts. But a new report published by the House Natural Resources Committee Democratic staff, titled “Missing the Mark: African trophy hunting fails to show consistent conservation benefits,” challenges these false claims. The analysis illustrates there is little evidence that the money spent by trophy hunters is actually being used for conservation, mostly due to government corruption, lax enforcement, a lack of transparency, and poorly managed wildlife programs.

The report shows that most trophy hunts “cannot be considered good for a species’ survival,” said Committee Ranking Member Raúl M. Grijalva. “Taking that claim at face value is no longer a serious option. Anyone who wants to see these animals survive needs to look at the evidence in front of us and make some major behavior and policy changes. Endangered and threatened species are not an inexhaustible resource to be killed whenever the mood strikes us.” 

The committee’s analysis focused on five species (African lion, African elephant, black rhinoceros, southern white rhinoceros, and leopard) and four African countries (Namibia, South Africa, Tanzania, and Zimbabwe). The report also looked at imports of these species by American trophy hunters—responsible for by far the largest share of the carnage than hunters from any other country. Indeed, our devastating footprint on the world’s most iconic species is enormous. The U.S. imports on average an estimated 126,000 trophies every year and between 2005 and 2014, our country has imported approximately 5,600 African lions, 4,600 African elephants, 4,500 African leopards, 330 southern white rhinos, and 17,200 African buffalo, among many other species.

Despite this, the report found that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has rarely used its authority to restrict trophy imports that do not actually enhance the survival of the species, as required under the Endangered Species Act. As reported by Jada F. Smith in today’s The New York Times, “For the species covered in the House report, the Fish and Wildlife Service required only one import permit from 2010 to 2014, though more than 2,700 trophies eligible for permitting were imported during that time. For the 1,469 leopard trophies that could have required an import permit, the agency required none.” As the report also reveals, trophy import fees paid by trophy hunters to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service are so low that it is the taxpayers who are covering 92 percent of the cost of the permitting program, thus “subsidizing the hobby of people wealthy enough to afford the other trophy hunting-related expenses...”

The data provides support for what most people is just common sense. Cecil was a famous lion in Zimbabwe’s Hwange National Park where he lived with his family—a pride of female lions and their cubs. His magnificent, awe-inspiring presence was enjoyed by thousands of visitors. His death was enjoyed by only one person. But what is the value of living Cecils—whether they are lions, elephants, rhinos, leopards, or any of the other animals sought by big-game hunters—as compared to the value of dead specimens? An American dentist paid $55,000 to shoot Cecil, but it’s estimated that a living Cecil would have generated nearly $1 million in tourism over his lifetime.

Wildlife-based eco-tourism, in fact, is a big industry in Africa and dwarfs trophy hunting in its economic impact. In Zimbabwe, tourism provides 6.4 percent of the Gross Domestic Product of the country. Trophy hunting provides only 0.2 percent of Zimbabwe’s GDP, or 32 orders of magnitude less than tourism. A 2013 study of nine countries that offer trophy hunting found that tourism contributed 2.4 percent of the GDP, while trophy hunting only contributed 0.09 percent.

In South Africa, tourism contributed R103.6 billion (or $6.7 billion) in 2014, which is approximately 2 percent of South Africa’s 2014 GDP ($341 billion). In 2013, it is estimated that the hunting contribution was a mere R1.2 billion (or $79.9 million). Kenya, which banned trophy hunting in the 1970s, has an eco-tourism economy that brings in far more money than trophy hunting to Southern Africa as a whole.

Trophy hunting of lions, elephants, and rhinos rob parks, reserves, and other natural areas of the keystone animals that are the real draw for tourists and essential to these ecosystems, making it a net revenue loser for African economies. The impact is exacerbated when the trophy hunters remove named, popular animals like Cecil from the population, ending the opportunity for visitors to enjoy them. Trophy hunting has also been closely tied with poaching, corruption, and other illegal practices. That’s why forward-thinking governments, like those in Kenya and Botswana, have banned trophy hunting, and governments like Australia and France prohibited imports of the African lion trophies, or in the case of the Netherlands imports of trophies from more than 200 species.

Trophy hunting also employs far fewer people than eco-tourism. The 56 million people who traveled to Africa to watch wildlife during 2013 were catered to by millions of Africans who work in the tourism sector. This pales in comparison to the handful of people who accompanied the few thousand trophy hunters who also traveled to Africa that year.

The new report makes several recommendations for actions the U.S. government can take because of its “responsibility to ensure that Americans are not contributing to the decline of already imperiled wildlife.” These recommendations include requiring more frequent and robust review of range state hunting programs for ESA listed species, closing loopholes that allow some trophies to be imported without a permit, collecting additional data, and increasing permit application fees. Tourists can do their part, too. By visiting countries like Kenya and Botswana that have shunned trophy hunting and supporting eco-safaris and wildlife watching ventures, tourists can show that they value Africa’s wildlife—alive.  

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