Two Senators Duke It Out Over Shark Conservation; Sharks Lose.

The practice of finning is the primary reason why sharks are disappearing from our oceans. The apex predator that play a major role in keeping marine systems in balance are caught, their fins cut from their bodies, and the still-living animals tossed back into the oceans. The disastrous practice could be dialed back if nations take a more active stance on setting up regulations and enforcing them. The US is on track to do just that with the S. 850 Shark Conservation Act of 2009; however, this week it was brought up in the Senate but along with several other important bills, it was blocked by one particular Senator. The Hill writes that Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.), who is a primary backer of the conservation bill, went toe to toe with Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) over the issue of shark finning. While Sen. Reid rightly called it an "issue of good moral conscience," Sen. Coburn says it's a waste of money.

So.... having a functioning ocean ecosystem complete with predators that maintain healthy fish stocks that are already suffering from human abuse, and also maintain the health of coral reefs (worth about $172 to the global economy) is a waste of money?

Sen. Coburn blocked all the conservation bills that came up that day, including S. 1748--Southern Sea Otter Recovery and Research Act, S. 859--Marine Mammal Rescue Assistance Amendments, S. 529--Great Cats and Rare Canids Act, and H.R. 388--Crane Conservation Act.

"The problems that are facing this country are so big and so massive that our attention ought to be focused on those large problems, not on five separate bills that have been proffered for special interest groups," stated Sen. Coburn

Apparently he doesn't recognize that our economy is also dependent on the proper functioning of the planet on which we live, and that the conservation acts also address larger problems such as pollution and habitat destruction that is impacting other species. As perfectly phrased in a recent article in The Guardian on why species diversity matters:

"That is, scientists may need to explain their work on a far more basic level -- not "Why do species matter?" but "Is food important to you?" or "Do you want your children to have effective medicines when they get sick?" or even "Do you like to breathe?" None of these questions overstates the importance of species."

Why such an adamant stance against the conservation bills? Well, aside from an apparent hatred of Sen. Reid, it comes down to money. Supposedly. But as The Huffington Post so succinctly puts it:

"Coburn [blocked all of the bills] under the pretense of fiscal restraint. But these measures cost very little, and they were all advanced to protect wild creatures from cruelty and in some cases from extinction. It's worth the very modest investment to prevent such awful outcomes... Cautious spending is an important value, but so is the defense of animals from cruelty, the rescue of marine creatures injured by human actions, or the protection of wild species from extinction. Coburn has corrupted a laudable principle of fiscal conservatism, and used it to negate and nullify valuable initiatives designed to protect vulnerable species at serious risk."

As of September 29, 2010, S.850 had 33 co-sponsors in the Senate, including Republicans Sens. John McCain (R-AZ), Olympia Snowe (R-ME), Susan Collins (R-ME), and David Vitter (R-LA).

We're still waiting for the role of sharks in our oceans to be taken seriously. Meanwhile, as many as 100 million are finned each year.

Follow Jaymi on Twitter for more stories like this
More on Shark Finning
Hooray! Hawaii Outlaws Shark Fin Soup
Shark Extinction Possible Simply From Too Much Soup
Thousands of Sharks Still Have Their Fins, Thanks to Randall Arauz

Tags: Conservation | Fishing | Oceans