In the summer of 2009, SURFER contributing photographer and shark attack survivor Mike Coots made national headlines when he made his way through the halls of Congress on a mission to save the lives of the creatures that very nearly took his own. Coots, along with eight other shark attack survivors—some missing arms, others legs—met with members of Congress and the media in an effort to gain national awareness for The Shark Conservation Act, a bill that would help put an end to shark finning in US waters. After a roller coaster ride through Congress, the Senate finally approved the bill on Monday. It is now headed to President Obama's desk where he is expected to sign it into law.
"I really couldn't be happier right now. A lot of people worked very hard to get this bill passed and I think it can do a lot of good," said Coots. "If I can bring more attention to the cause because I'm a shark attack survivor, then that's a good thing. I'm just really stoked this bill finally passed."
According to reports from the Pew Environment Group, an estimated 73 million sharks are killed each year for their fins, with 30 percent of sharks and ray species currently threatened with extinction. The practice of finning is barbaric to say the least. In most cases, the sharks are caught on long lines, pulled to the boat, have their fins hacked from their body, and are then dumped overboard to perish in the sea. As the ocean's apex predators, the demise of shark populations could have disastrous effects on other marine life.
Primarily used for shark fin soup – a delicacy normally reserved for the wealthy in many parts of Asia – the price of fins has been on the rise as a growing middle class in China can now afford the item.
Once passed, the bill would tighten loopholes in an already existing bill that allowed the trade to continue.
"The law on the books was complicated and difficult to enforce," said Wayne Pacelle, President and Chief Executive of the Humane Society of the United States in an interview with the Washington Post, "but this new set of standards will ensure that sharks will no longer be mutilated and thrown back in the water to face a gruesome death just for shark fin soup."