Yesterday, sharks received a huge victory when a federal district court upheld a California law that prohibits the possession and sale of shark fins throughout the state. California’s 2011 law was originally challenged by a group of shark fin dealers and retailers who claimed the ban was discriminatory and in violation of federal law. The court ruled against all claims in the suit, specifically ruling that the law did not violate the Constitution’s Equal Protection and Commerce Clauses, and that the law was not preempted by federal fisheries law.
The judge also noted that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) had concluded that the California law was consistent with federal fisheries law last month, in a letter sent to the state of California. Yesterday’s decision sets an important precedent, and we strongly encourage NOAA to quickly conclude that the remaining five state shark fin bans in Hawaii, Oregon, Illinois, Delaware and New York are also consistent with federal law.
California’s law is an important tool in combating the overexploitation of sharks worldwide. The cruel act of shark finning entails cutting off a shark’s fins and tossing the shark back into the sea, where it often bleeds to death and drowns. In fact, some shark populations have decreased by 99 percent due to shark finning and overfishing. Shark fins are used primarily for shark fin soup.
Although shark finning is prohibited in U.S. waters, the trade in fins is still legal and is the primary problem for global shark conservation. The shark fin industry is responsible for killing upwards of 100 million sharks per year. Shark fin bans are necessary for the continued existence of these apex predators, which play vital roles in balancing the health of our oceans.