In June, Texas joined California, Oregon, Washington, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Delaware, New York and Massachusetts in banning the shark fin trade. Courtesy of Sea Shepherd.

July 1, 2015

Last month, Texas became the 10th U.S. state to ban the shark fin trade, thanks to the backing of powerful animal advocacy groups, including the U.S. Humane Society, Humane Society International and Oceana. But it was a shark-loving environmentalist in Dallas who was the first to dive into the statewide campaign.

Back in 2011, Anna Clark, a Dallas-based author and founder of a communications firm called EarthPeople, was devastated when she read about a shark massacre off the coast of South America. 

Right, Anna Clark.

Divers doing research in the Malpelo Wildlife Sanctuary came upon an estimated 2,000 sharks, stripped of their fins, dead at the bottom of the ocean. They’d been killed in a cruel and wasteful harvesting method known as shark finning, in which fishermen capture the sharks, cut off their fins while the fish are still alive and throw the writhing creatures back into the water, where they sink to the bottom to die.

The fins are used primarily for shark fin soup, an expensive delicacy popular in the Chinese culture. According to Wild Aid, more than 70 million of the 100 million sharks killed annually by fishermen are killed just for their fins. 

Clark had always had a soft spot in her heart for sharks, admitting she rooted for the Great White at the movies as a child. 

“I cried when they blew up the shark,” she said, joking about the finale of Jaws 3.

She wanted to help. After doing some internet research, she contacted David McGuire, a marine biologist, filmmaker and executive director for Shark Stewards, a shark advocacy group based in California.  

Initially she offered to do some pro bono public relations for the nonprofit. Then she and McGuire agreed she should start a Texas chapter of Shark Stewards, with the goal of rallying public support for a shark fin ban in Texas. 

Left, David McGuire, founder of Shark Stewards.

At the time, shark fin bans were gaining momentum, with trade bans in Hawaii, Oregon, Washington and California already in place.  

McGuire, who led the first effort to ban the shark fin trade in California, contacted the U.S. Humane Society’s Washington, D.C. office for help introducing a Texas bill. 

“I’m considered a shark expert,” said McGuire. “But I’m by no means a professional lobbyist.”

As a result, Katie Jarl, who had just been hired as Texas State Director of the Humane Society, was enlisted to join McGuire and Clark to get a shark fin ban passed in Texas. 

Over the next several months, Jarl, McGuire and Clark and a small grassroots coalition worked together leading up to the 2013 Texas Congressional Session. 

“We recruited superstar advocates Thomas Oglin, Marisol Ramirez, Joy Benson and Ellis Pickett to help,” said Clark. “Our wonderful intern Kayla Elli helped me table at Whole Foods, David gave talks at museums, we enlisted zoos and aquariums to join us, many of us testified before the Texas House and Senate, and I wrote op-eds galore.” 

Katie Jarl, Texas state director for the Humane Society of the U.S.; Ellis Pickett of Surfrider Foundation - Texas Upper Coast Chapter; and Shark Stewards representatives Joy Benson, Kayla Ellis, Thomas Oglin and Anna Clark appeared in support of sharks at the state capital March 5, 2013. 

Despite their enthusiasm for the cause, Clark said the first bill died in the Senate in 2013. She admitted she was devastated after spending a year on the effort.  

“I cried when that first campaign failed. They later told me that first campaigns often do. I'm not sure I would have attempted it had I known.”

At that point, Clark said she realized she had to get back to overseeing her business. 

Meanwhile, Jarl stepped up the campaign. 

“We came back with a new strategy,” said the Houston native. “We had a new fact team, new scientific research. We built a new coalition, which included the Discovery Channel.” 

They cited the urgency of the ban, reporting that the international shark fin trade had migrated to Texas as other states enacted bans.

"We have calculated that Texas was responsible for exporting about 50 percent of the remaining shark fin exports that were coming out of the United States. It had become a hub of shark fin trade in the U.S.," Amanda Keledjian, a marine scientists for Oceana, told Reuters. 

In 2014, Jarl said she traveled to 25 Texas cities to garner support for the bill.

“I never stopped working on the shark fin bill,” she said. “The real victory came with sticking with it.” 

The bill’s momentum grew as other well-known supporters, including Landry’s Seafood and Houston Downtown Aquarium, came on board.

In the 2015 Legislative Session, State Rep. Eddie Lucio III, D-Harlingen, who had introduced the first bill and was passionate about the cause, introduced House Bill 1579. After clearing the House, the bill garnered nearly unanimous support from a new Senate committee. 

In May, the bill passed in the Senate, and Governor Abbott signed the bill on June 20. Texas made worldwide headlines as the first Gulf Coast state and the first red state to enact a shark fin ban. 

“This is huge, it’s going to send a ripple effect,” said Jarl. “People will be saying ‘If Texas can do it, why can’t we?’”

While Jarl says the Texas ban was inevitably going to be a Humane Society project, Clark feels proud that she acted on her desire to protect sharks and jumpstarted the initiative.

“I realized I didn’t have to be the policy doer,” said Clark. “Katie is the expert at lobbying. She was a rock star. If citizens knew they could be a catalyst for a new law, they’d get more involved.”

McGuire said the same thing happened in Massachusetts when he helped another person who contacted him get a coalition started. The state banned the shark fin trade in 2014. 

He added that the bans, while important, serve a larger purpose. Afterall, the U.S. consumes only a small percentage of shark fins in the market – about 99 percent end up in China.

“The real reason we’re doing this is to bring attention to a world-wide crisis,” he said. “It makes us look less like hypocrites when we go to Asia and China to convince leaders they need to stop the shark fin trade in their countries.”

Related stories: 

Green Source DFW March 13, 2012
Shark Stewards brings conservation message to DFW

Green Source DFW May 21, 2013
Shark fin ban bill dies in Senate – Advocates say fight’s not over

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