Linda McCaul testifies in Congress to save sharks
The expert witness testifying at a congressional hearing about the need for a national prohibition on shark fin trading was everything an advocate could hope for: knowledgeable, passionate, articulate.
She was also something more: connected.
Linda McCaul is the wife of the bill’s co-sponsor, U.S. Rep. Michael McCaul, R-Austin, who, in a show of spousal support, sat directly behind her during her testimony last week before a subcommittee hearing of the House Natural Resources Committee.
She is frequently described as an heiress — her father is chairman of Clear Channel Communications — but Linda McCaul is also a marine scientist with a master’s degree in oceanography and geology. She has been a passionate advocate for sharks all her life and has scuba dived all over the world, tagging sharks and even getting in shark cages to get up close to great whites. It’s a passion she said now includes diving with her children.
“I am a true shark conservationist,” McCaul told the American-Statesman.
How did she end up testifying? “Michael was talking to people and the committee and told them how much I loved sharks, and they asked me.”
Her response: “Absolutely, I’ll do it. I’ll do it for the sharks.”
As for the experience appearing before the House Natural Resource Committee’s Subcommittee on Water, Oceans, and Wildlife, she said, “I wasn’t really nervous. I enjoyed it.”
It is unusual but not unprecedented for a congressional spouse to testify: At least four have done so since 1990 in the House, according to the historian’s office. There have been a handful in the Senate, as well, according to Senate Assistant Historian Daniel Holt, including Wendy Gramm, the wife of U.S. Sen. Phil Gramm, R-Texas. The chairwoman of the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, among several other executive positions in the federal government, Wendy Gramm would regularly testify before lawmakers, even before a committee that included her husband. Phil Gramm retired from the Senate in 2002.
Early in her career, McCaul worked for the Ocean Drilling Program, which explored the composition of ocean basins, and the Office of Naval Intelligence, where she tracked Soviet submarines. She also developed a course for the CIA on biological warfare.
After marrying in 1993 and, as she puts it, taking a break to have her five children (including triplets), she now focuses on philanthropic work, much of it related to shark conservation.
She is working to educate lawmakers about what she says is the need for a federal law prohibiting trading in shark fins — there is already a law forbidding the practice of slicing the fins off sharks, leaving them to die in the ocean — which she warns is hurting shark populations. There is an international market in shark fins, according to Oceana, an environmental group, because of the demand for shark fin soup, especially in Asian markets.
“We’re just saying sharks are at unsustainable levels,” McCaul said. “We want to preserve these majestic animals.”
She told lawmakers that the economic impact of the diving and conservation communities was enormous and that “shark-related dives in Florida alone generated over $221 million in revenue and fueled over 3,700 jobs in 2016.”
McCaul credits Gov. Greg Abbott with having supported a law forbidding shark fin trading in Texas — one of 12 states and three territories with a fin ban — and wants to work to get more lawmakers to support a federal ban.
“I’m proud of our governor,” she said. But, she added, the state-by-state approach is creating too many loopholes. “That’s why I think we need a federal law.”
The Shark Fin Sales Elimination Act, House Resolution 737, is sponsored by Michael McCaul and Rep. Gregorio Sablan, who represents the Northern Marianas Islands as an independent but caucuses with the Democrats. The bill has 176 co-sponsors — 43 Republicans and 133 Democrats. The bill came close to passage in the last Congress, and supporters are hopeful that it will be approved this year.
The chairman of the subcommittee, Rep. Jared Huffman, D-Calif., told the American-Statesman, “The Shark Fin Sales Elimination Act is a great example of the kind of work Congress should be doing more of — solving a serious conservation problem by working across the aisle. ... I’m grateful that Linda Mays McCaul took the time to share her expertise with the subcommittee, and I’m hopeful that her testimony and this bipartisan show of support from across the country will be enough to get the bill across the finish line in this Congress.”
This article originally appeared in the Austin-American Statesman, here.