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Oceana Magazine Spring 2014: NOAA Does the Right Thing

NOAA Does the Right Thing

State shark fin bans will stand

In our last issue, we revealed that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration was taking steps to undermine state shark fin bans, which protect millions of sharks from slaughter by closing down the market for shark fins. But after a public awareness campaign, led by Oceana and the Humane Society of the United States, it appears that NOAA is backing down.

 “We called NOAA to task, and they listened,” said Dominique Cano-Stocco, Oceana’s campaign director for responsible fishing. Shark finning is no longer allowed in U.S. waters, but the trade in shark fins is still legal under national law. Beginning in 2010, eight U.S. states and three U.S. territories passed bans outlawing the possession, sale, trade, and consumption of shark fins, eliminating a large percentage of the U.S. market for shark fins.

But after the bans went into effect, NOAA took steps that threatened to destabilize both the shark fin bans and their immense conservation benefits. In May, in the process of implementing the federal Shark Conservation Act, NOAA challenged the state shark fin bans by stating that federal law could preempt, or overrule, state shark fin bans, allowing the shark fin trade to continue. The federal government also joined a lawsuit challenging the California state ban.

When the last issue of Oceana went to press, Cano-Stocco and her team were fighting back to defend these important state laws. Oceana launched a public awareness campaign, including running NOAA’s offices, pressuring them to side with sharks and not shark finners. Oceana also sent a letter to NOAA signed by more than 24,000 Oceana Wavemakers, urging the agency to make the right decision.

“It wasn’t easy, but it worked,” says Cano- Stocco. “NOAA publicly withdrew its pre-emption challenge in California, and indicated its satisfaction with the state laws in Washington and Maryland,” she says. “We are confident that NOAA will also drop their challenges in the remaining five states.” Meanwhile, more U.S. states are joining the movement to close down the market for fins. Massachusetts, Nebraska, New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Texas, and Florida all recently introduced bills to ban fins in their states.

“Momentum is building again,” says Cano- Stocco, “and I hope that we’ll soon have more bans in place to help keep fins where they belong—firmly attached to live sharks in our oceans.”