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Film & Television

Monday, July 29, 2019

This Shark Week, help save sharks from cruelties like finning

By Sara Amundson and Kitty Block

There was a time when sharks were routinely portrayed by popular media as aggressive and ruthless predators—animals to be afraid of and to avoid, or even worse, to kill. But today, with growing awareness and increasingly positive public attitudes toward these magnificent creatures, we know that sharks themselves are in terrible danger from human actions, with their numbers in the wild declining sharply as a result of overfishing and cruel activities like shark finning. In fact, up to 73 million sharks are killed each year for their fins. 

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Photo by Vanessa Mignon

Shark Week, which began yesterday on the Discovery Channel, is evolving accordingly and now offers television viewers an opportunity to learn more about these awesome creatures who play an important role in the marine ecosystems and who could, unless the world takes critical steps, become extinct.

We have advocated for sharks for a long time here at the Humane Society Legislative Fund, the Humane Society of the United States, and Humane Society International. Shark finning is one of the most grisly and ecologically wasteful forms of animal cruelty there is, and the continuing market for shark fins in countries around the world is a priority target for our reform efforts.

Earlier this year, we worked with members of Congress to reintroduce the Shark Fin Sales Elimination Act, H.R. 737/S. 877, that would end U.S. participation in the global shark fin trade. The House bill is led by Reps. Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan, D-Northern Mariana Islands, and Michael McCaul, R-Texas, and it has 222 bipartisan cosponsors—more than half the House. The counterpart bill in the Senate is led by Sens. Cory Booker, D-N.J., and Shelley Moore Capito, R-W.Va.

We are putting our might behind passing this important bill, and last week, we hosted a briefing for the House of Representatives to draw members’ attention to the destructive transnational shark fin trade.

The featured guests were Brian and Sandy Stewart, producers of the documentary film Sharkwater Extinction. They treated a packed room of congressional staff to excerpts of their late son Rob Stewart’s award-winning film uncovering the ecologically damaging trade in shark fins, and met with lawmakers to discuss the urgent need to pass the Shark Fin Sales Elimination Act.

Stewart was a courageous filmmaker and fierce ocean advocate who tragically lost his life in a diving accident while filming two years ago. His work was invaluable to raising awareness of the shark fin trade, and helped change public sentiment toward sharks, turning many people worldwide into shark advocates. His parents are traveling the world, carrying on his mission through education and political action.

Rob’s work was also integral to getting his home country, Canada—the largest importer of shark fins outside Asia—to pass a landmark bill earlier this year that prohibits the trade in shark fins nationwide as well as finning in Canadian waters. HSI/Canada partnered with the Stewarts and other shark advocates to introduce and pass this bill.

The HSUS and HSI have also worked on ending the global demand for shark fins through public education and legislation elsewhere. HSI affiliates have won bans on shark finning in India, Taiwan, and the European Union, and its public awareness campaigns on reducing shark fin consumption in China, Taiwan and Hong Kong have reached millions of people. HSI is also advocating for international protections for mako sharks at the 18th meeting of the Conference of the Parties of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) and is collecting signatures from supporters urging international leaders to adopt these protections.

Stateside, the HSUS has worked to get shark fin trade bans passed in 13 states, including Hawaii and Texas, and three U.S. territories; and more states are considering bans.

Our work, and the work of advocates like Rob Stewart, has led to a sea change in how the world views sharks. In addition to the legislative successes and steps forward, several dozen hotel chains, airlines and global shipping companies no longer serve or transport shark fins as a result of relentless advocacy by animal protection organizations like ours.

The global momentum to protect sharks is growing and our country needs to be part of it. Sharks are too precious to lose—they are top predators in the oceans and play a critical role in the balance of marine ecosystems. As you watch these magnificent creatures on your television screens this week, we hope you will take the time to also make a call to your senators and your representative to ask them to cosponsor the Shark Fin Sales Elimination Act. Sharks deserve our protection now more than ever.

Kitty Block is President and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States.

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Pete Sessions—not for animals, not for Texas

Over the years, thanks to our terrific base of supporters, we’ve been able to cultivate a strong bloc of legislators at the federal level who support our vital animal protection mission.  Even so, there are a handful who don’t care much about animals or our policy goals, and within that group there are a few who stand out for their indifference and obstructionism. That’s the case with U.S. Representative Pete Sessions (TX-32), and that’s why the Humane Society Legislative Fund began airing a television ad in the Dallas-Fort Worth area that exposes his abysmal voting record against commonsense animal protection legislation during two decades in Congress. By our count, Pete Sessions has voted against animals and their protection 40 times over that period. He’s in a swing district, and he’s facing a challenger whose commitment to our values and policies is crystal clear. That’s why we think it’s time for a big change of direction there. 

Sessions has a dismal score of 17 out of 100 on the HSLF’s 2017 Humane Scorecard—and his lifetime average score is a bottom of the barrel 11 out of 100. Recently, he voted against an amendment to the Farm Bill designed to end the horrors of animal fighting by applying the same legal prohibitions to the U.S. territories that we apply in the 50 states. Sessions was surely out of touch on this one, as the amendment passed the House floor by a vote of 359-51.

The congressman’s record of supporting the slaughter of horses for human consumption in foreign countries also marks him as an outlier. Some 80% of Americans, including many of his fellow Texans, are opposed to the practice.

Sessions has exhibited a horrible record on wildlife protection, too. He helped to block efforts to protect iconic elephants from the ivory trade and supported efforts to allow a small group of wealthy trophy hunters to import threatened polar bears’ heads and hides for display. He voted to eliminate vital protections on federally owned, taxpayer-supported lands in Alaska, allowing hunters to kill hibernating mother bears and their cubs in their dens.

A self-proclaimed fiscal conservative, Sessions even voted to continue funding wasteful subsidies for lethal predator control, which relies on some of the most callous and ecologically destructive killing methods known to man.

All of this would be bad enough on its own, but it’s worth noting too that as chairman of the House Rules Committee, Sessions was a one-man barricade against animal welfare, preventing bills from reaching the floor even when they enjoyed widespread support within the House itself.  No one sent him to Washington to defend and protect horse slaughter, trophy hunting, predator killing, and animal fighting, and to prevent other elected representatives from voting on these practices, but that’s the kind of record he’s amassed.

With our engaged supporters and contributors, we at the HSLF work tirelessly for the passage of laws to stop the inhumane treatment of animals and ensure their greater protection. We cannot afford to overlook the out-of-step philosophy and voting record of lawmakers like Pete Sessions, especially when we know that tens of thousands of voters in districts like his want their representatives to support fundamental animal protection policy. That’s why HSLF has endorsed Colin Allred for Texas’ 32nd Congressional District—he’s a humane champion who has committed to support our work, and we’re confident that he will.

Let’s talk straight. Pete Sessions has wasted 40 opportunities to help end suffering and improve the lives of animals everywhere. That’s the kind of waste we are determined to cut. If you have friends and family in the 32nd Congressional District, please share our TV ad to let them know about the abysmal record that Pete Sessions has racked up, and encourage them to vote for Colin Allred on November 6th. You’ll be glad you did.

Monday, June 15, 2015

Wildlife Disservices

Longtime wildlife advocate Congressman Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., led a briefing today to expose the annual, irresponsible killing of millions of wild animals on behalf of a few special interests.

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John Harrison

The USDA’s century-old “Wildlife Services” program is a little known, taxpayer-funded effort to deal with wildlife conflicts, but the agency principally focuses on the outdated and inefficient model of lethal control.

And that killing routinely utilizes shockingly inhumane and indiscriminate methods, such as toxic poisons, steel-jawed leghold traps, and aerial gunning.

In Fiscal Year 2014 alone, Wildlife Services spent more than $127 million—more than half of it from federal, state, and local taxes—to kill more than 2.7 million animals, including some endangered species and family pets.

These animals  were poisoned, gassed, shot from the ground and from aircraft, and killed in painful traps and snares to benefit clients like industrial timber operators, commercial fish farmers, and private ranchers grazing their livestock on public lands.

Today’s briefing was co-hosted by The HSUS and a coalition of wildlife and conservation groups and included a screening of "Exposed", an award-winning documentary by Predator Defense. Attendees heard from a number of panelists, including Denise Kavanagh, whose dog, Maggie, was killed by a Wildlife Services trap just steps from her backyard.

The HSUS also today released new research that identifies how Wildlife Services is misusing public funds. The HSUS report recommends seven critical reforms to the program that would help foster more humane and effective coexistence between people and wildlife. These include removing the financial incentive to kill, ending the use of inhumane management techniques, and ensuring nonlethal control is the preferred practice. 

But in order to become more humane and more effective, it’s critical that Wildlife Services as an agency also become more transparent. To date, the program has refused to provide significant information about spending even when directly requested by members of Congress.

People in communities where Wildlife Services is working now are often uninformed about the program’s activities, even when they and their beloved pets are at risk. Revelations about employee misconduct and negative media reports include a series of exposés that uncovered brutal and indiscriminate activities, fiscal irresponsibility, and environmental harm.

It’s time to hold Wildlife Services accountable for its actions and use of federal dollars. We are grateful to Rep. DeFazio and other members of Congress who have called for more transparent, humane, and balanced management, requested an audit of the culture within Wildlife Services and protested the use of poisons as a lethal control method.

There is a legitimate case to be made for a federal agency that helps to solve wildlife conflicts and provides training and research on best practices with an emphasis on innovation and non-lethal solutions.

But Wildlife Services in its current form is a relic of the past. It exterminates wildlife as a government subsidy for private ranchers and other special interests, using inhumane and ineffective methods, while the U.S. taxpayers foot a large share of the bill.  We have a right to expect better from our government, especially when humane alternatives are on the rise.

Now it’s your turn to speak up. Please contact USDA Secretary Vilsack, and ask for meaningful reform now. Taxpayers shouldn’t be asked to bankroll a wildlife management program that makes reckless killing its default option. 

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