This week, Massachusetts became the ninth state to regulate the trade of shark fins within their state borders—an important step forward in the fight for global shark conservation. Governor Deval Patrick signed into law a bill that reduces the state’s participation in the international trade of shark fins, joining California, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, New York, Oregon, Washington, and the U.S. territories of Guam, American Samoa, and the Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas islands.
Shark finning is a merciless practice that involves slicing off a shark’s fins at sea, after which the shark is thrown back into the water. Most often, the sharks are still alive and are left to bleed to death or drown. An estimated 73 million sharks are killed annually for their fins, which is the main ingredient in shark fin soup, an Asian delicacy that has grown in popularity within the past few decades.
Although the U.S. government banned the practice of shark finning in 2000, fins can still be imported and exported because possession and sale is still allowed within the country. Unfortunately, once fins have been processed and reimported, it is impossible to distinguish those caught sustainably by U.S. fishermen and those caught illegally or inhumanely in countries that have not banned the practice of finning. The demand for shark fin soup around the world is spurring the continuation of this horrific practice outside of our waters, showing that banning the practice of shark finning is not enough.
State shark fin trade bans can reduce or eliminate the demand for shark fins and take away the incentives for fishermen to catch sharks only for their fins. Ending participation in the international shark fin trade is a necessary step to help restore shark populations. It is estimated that shark populations have dropped by 80 percent worldwide in the past 50 years alone.
While Massachusetts has taken a positive step forward, the law excludes spiny dogfish and smooth hounds from the trade ban, two species that are sold for shark fin soup. Since it is difficult to identify species from detached fins, this exemption makes the shark fin trade ban challenging to enforce. Oceana has encouraged Massachusetts to develop appropriate enforcement plans to ensure the law adheres to its legislative intent—reducing participation in the global shark fin trade.
The states where shark fin trade bans have already been implemented were previously responsible for approximately two-thirds of the fins imported into the U.S. Each state that passes a shark fin trade ban brings the U.S. closer to blocking the barbaric shark fin trade from our shores and reversing the trend of declining shark populations.