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January 22, 2014

Fins Are Finished


Each year, millions of sharks are slaughtered for their fins to meet the demand for shark fin soup. Over the past few years, several U.S. states passed laws against the trade in shark fins to help shut down the market. In the recent issue of Oceana magazine, we reveal how a government agency is taking steps to undermine these bans. Read an excerpt below, or visit Oceana magazine for the full article.

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.”

Eight U.S. states and two territories decided to address this issue by passing bans outlawing the possession, sale and trade of shark fins. Hawaii passed the first ban in 2010, and within three years California, Oregon, Washington, New York, Maryland, Delaware, and Illinois passed similar legislation, eliminating a large percentage of the U.S. market for shark fins. Previously, an average 68 percent of the fins imported into the U.S. went to the eight states that enacted these bans, according to data gathered by Oceana.

But after the bans went into effect, NOAA took two steps that could destabilize both the bans and their conservation benefits.

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