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Thursday, November 19, 2009

Protecting Predators of the Sky and Sea

Congress made advances this week on two major conservation bills to protect predators of the sky and the sea. The measures cleared important committees with bipartisan support, and if enacted into law will greatly enhance law enforcement efforts to crack down on cruelty to sharks and raptors.

Hawk
A House committee approved H.R. 2062, the Migratory Bird
Treaty Penalty and Enforcement Act, to strengthen the
penalties for intentionally killing federally protected birds.

First, the House Natural Resources Committee yesterday unanimously approved H.R. 2062, the Migratory Bird Treaty Penalty and Enforcement Act, legislation by Rep. Peter DeFazio (D-Ore.) to strengthen the penalties for intentionally killing federally protected birds. I wrote in July about one of the most shocking and sickening scourges of bird-related crime in recent years, in which members of “roller pigeon clubs” deliberately killed peregrine falcons, Cooper’s hawks, and red-tailed hawks by shooting, trapping, poisoning, clubbing, baiting birds into glass panels, and even baiting birds with pigeons rigged with fishing hooks. The club members had no fear of meaningful penalties and even boasted of their crime spree on public web sites.

DeFazio’s legislation will give federal prosecutors and wildlife law enforcement agents the option to pursue hefty fines and prison sentences against serial bird killers. We are grateful to Natural Resources Committee Chairman Nick Rahall (D-W.Va.) for advancing this important conservation and anti-crime legislation to put teeth in the Migratory Bird Treaty Act, and we urge the full House to pass it swiftly. We also expect a Senate version of the bill to be introduced soon.

Shark
A Senate committee passed S. 850, the Shark Conservation
Act, to increase protection for sharks from the cruel and
wasteful practice of shark finning.

Second, the Senate Commerce Committee today passed S. 850, the Shark Conservation Act, legislation by Sen. John Kerry (D-Mass.) to increase protection for sharks from the cruel and wasteful practice of shark finning—cutting the fins off a shark and tossing the mutilated animal back into the ocean to die. Investigative reporter George Knapp at KLAS-TV just did an eye-opening exposé about the booming international trade in shark fins and the ready availability of shark fin soup at Las Vegas hotels and restaurants. Tens of millions of sharks are killed each year for their fins, and there has been a dramatic decline in some shark species worldwide.

Shark finning is already banned, but there is a loophole in the current law allowing a ship to transport fins that were obtained illegally as long as the sharks were not finned aboard that vessel. The Kerry bill—along with H.R. 81 by Congresswoman Madeleine Bordallo (D-Guam) which has already passed the full House—would require that sharks are landed with their fins still attached, the only sure way to prevent large-scale finning at sea.

There had been talk of amendments to exempt a certain species of shark, the smooth dogfish on the Atlantic coast, which would have complicated law enforcement efforts and potentially harmed imperiled species such as the sandbar shark which look similar to the smooth dogfish. We are grateful to Chairman John Rockefeller (D-W.Va.) and the full Commerce Committee for passing a strong shark protection bill without any weakening amendments, and we urge the full Senate to approve the measure.

Some reforms are so evident that there really is not a debate in society about the right course of action. Who could possibly think that poisoning or clubbing birds of prey to prevent any chance encounter with trained pigeons, or leaving sharks to suffocate and bleed to death without their fins for a little taste of soup, is an appropriate way to treat these creatures? Let’s hope Congress takes action soon and gets these critical measures over the finish line.

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