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Oceana Magazine: Winter 2013

Fins Are Finished

State shark fin bans are under threat—from NOAA

By Justine E. Hausheer

Primordially graceful, sharks have roamed our oceans for 400 million years. They ruled the seas before the first vertebrates crawled onto land, swam alongside dinosaurs, and survived mass extinctions that exterminated 90 percent of all life on earth. But they might not survive us.

At a time when shark populations are crashing from overfishing, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is considering steps to undermine state laws that protect sharks. Shark finners are the major cause for the slaughter of as many as 73 million sharks every year to supply restaurants with shark fin soup, according to a 2006 study in Ecology Letters.

 Finners typically hack off every one of a shark’s fins before hurling it back overboard, dead or dying. Largely thanks to finning, shark populations have declined by much as 90 percent for many species, according to a 2012 study in Biological Conservation.

Although shark finning is no longer allowed in U.S. waters, the international trade in shark fins is still legal. “There is still a disturbing amount of shark finning going on internationally,” says Jackie Savitz, Oceana vice president for U.S. oceans. “By having a market in the U.S. where fins can be brought into our country, we enable and promote this destructive practice.”