Sharks have been swimming the world’s oceans for more than 400 million years. While they have survived mass extinction events, sharks have not evolved to withstand overexploitation by humans.
These top predators are in grave danger due to unsustainable demand for their fins, illegal fishing, poor management and bycatch.
As apex predators, sharks play a vital role in maintaining the health of marine ecosystems, serving as an indicator of ocean health. Many people don’t know that unlike many other fish, sharks are long-lived and produce very few young, making them extremely vulnerable to overfishing. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), 25 percent of shark species are threatened with extinction.
Oceana is working to protect and restore shark populations by pushing for enforceable shark finning bans, promoting shark fin trade bans, setting species-specific catch limits, and advocating for measures to reduce shark bycatch. The good news is that significant progress has been made.
In 2009, actress January Jones ("Mad Men") joined Oceana as the spokesperson for our shark campaign. [Watch videos, see photos, and learn why January is scared for sharks.]
In 2010, Oceana worked successfully with Congress to pass the Shark Conservation Act, which makes shark finning illegal, when a fisherman cuts off the fins of a shark and tosses the dying shark back overboard. However, the law stopped short of prohibiting the trade of fins once removed from the shark.
Also in 2010, Hawaii became the first state to ban the possession, sale and trade of shark fins. Since then, seven additional U.S. states and three territories have passed shark fin trade bans. These fin trade bans have enormous potential to block the cruel and immoral trade in shark fins by closing off ports and commercial markets, therefore minimizing the overexploitation of sharks. Oceana estimates that 68 percent of imported shark fins came in through the states that now have shark fin trade bans.
Unfortunately, after the trade bans were enacted, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) took steps to discourage states from implementing the fin ban laws that were already passed and to discourage the passage of new laws.
Oceana is fighting back and pressuring the government to back down. Oceana sent a letter to NOAA last year signed by more than 24,000 supporters as well as placed high-profile Metro ads near the agency’s headquarters asking NOAA to protect sharks, not shark finners. In early 2014, the hard work paid off. NOAA publicly conceded that the bans in California, Washington and Maryland were lawful.
Oceana continues to pressure NOAA not to interfere with the remaining state bans in Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, New York and Oregon.