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Wednesday, July 10, 2013

Don't Tank the Shark Finning Laws

A bipartisan group of 62 House members—led by U.S. Reps. Jared Huffman, D-Calif., and Grace Meng, D-N.Y.—sent a letter to the Obama Administration urging it to revise a proposed federal rule that could undermine state bans on buying or selling shark fins. When they previously served as state legislators, Huffman and Meng led the efforts in California and New York, respectively, to ban the trade in shark fin products. Those states (the New York bill is awaiting Gov. Cuomo’s signature), along with Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Oregon, Washington, and the U.S. territories of Guam, American Samoa, and Northern Mariana Islands, have adopted policies to crack down on finning by drying up the demand for shark fins within their borders.
 
SharkCongress passed the Shark Conservation Act of 2010, which strengthens the federal law against shark finning—the brutal practice of hacking the fins off sharks, often while they’re still alive, and throwing the mutilated animals back overboard to die slowly in the ocean. Shark finning had been illegal in U.S. waters since 2000, but major loopholes in the law rendered the ban unenforceable. For example, ships were allowed to transport fins obtained illegally as long as the sharks were not finned aboard that particular vessel. The new federal law requires that sharks be landed with their fins still naturally attached, the only sure way to enforce a domestic ban on finning.

But in addition to proposing regulations to implement the new law, the National Marine Fisheries Service, shockingly, has proposed to preempt states and territories from passing complementary laws to combat shark finning. It goes way beyond what Congress intended with the Shark Conservation Act, which deals with the act of finning sharks at sea, not the trade in shark products within the U.S.
 
Both federal and state laws are needed to do everything we can to curb the killing of up to 73 million sharks each year for shark fin soup. Today, one-fifth of shark species are threatened with extinction, and some populations have declined 90 percent in the last 30 years. Sharks are apex predators who play an essential role in marine ecosystems. The cruel and ecologically devastating practice of shark finning endangers their survival—and that of the species that rely on them.
 
The U.S. has a major role to play, as it’s the largest market for shark fins outside Asia. Trade data indicates that more than 90 percent of our shark fin imports come from Hong Kong, which receives and processes fins from more than 80 countries. Once imported into the U.S. it’s very difficult to tell by looking at a processed, treated shark fin sold here what species or country it’s from, or whether it’s from an illegal or overfished fishery—and it’s impossible to tell whether those fins came from a shark subjected to the cruel practice of finning. The federal prohibitions on shark finning are important, but they cannot and do not address the fact that local markets for shark fin products within the U.S. are primarily supplied from fins that are not produced in U.S. waters and other areas where bans on finning are in place.

As states ban the sale of this product, and consumers and chefs choose alternatives in restaurants and banquet halls, we can reduce the demand for this cruel and wasteful killing and turn the problem around for sharks. We can’t allow the continued mass slaughter of these important ocean predators just for a bowl of soup. Contact the Obama Administration today and tell them we can’t allow NMFS to turn back the clock on shark protection.

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