With Discovery Channel’s “Shark Week” in full swing and right on the heels of last week’s introduction of a new congressional bill restricting the trade in shark fins, the Obama administration has taken an additional action to help sharks. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration today announced a final rule to implement the Shark Conservation Act of 2010, which the Humane Society Legislative Fund, along with our partners The Humane Society of the United States and Humane Society International, helped to pass.
The 2010 law prohibits any person from removing the fins of a shark at sea, possessing detached fins on board a fishing vessel, transferring detached fins between vessels at sea, or landing a shark without its fins naturally attached anywhere along the U.S. coastline. It closes several loopholes and fortifies the ban on shark finning in U.S. waters, and further cracks down on the barbaric practice of hacking the fins off of sharks, often while they’re still alive, and throwing the mutilated animals back overboard to languish and die.
Just as the destructive ivory trade decimates elephant populations and induces horrific elephant poaching, the trade in shark fins incentivizes shark finning and leads to massive slaughter of sharks around the world. Each year, up to 73 million sharks worldwide are brutally finned and left to die an agonizing death—just for a bowl of soup. Fishermen do not discriminate by species, and the unique characteristics of sharks—maturing slowly and producing relatively few young—make them highly susceptible to fishing pressure. It is now estimated that a quarter of all shark and ray species are threatened with extinction.
According to data from the United Nations’ Food and Agriculture Organization, the U.S. is one of the top shark catching countries. We are also among the world’s top importers and exporters of shark fins and other shark products. There is an urgent need to ramp up domestic efforts to protect keystone species integral to keeping the marine ecosystem’s balance in check. That’s why it’s so important to address our role in fueling demand, and today’s final rule on the Shark Conservation Act, coupled with the introduction of the federal Shark Fin Trade Elimination Act, move us forward toward ensuring our country does not partake in finning cruelty.
Eleven states and U.S. territories have also banned the possession and sale of shark fins, helping to dry up the demand for finning across the globe. In the final rule concerning the Shark Conservation Act, announced today, the administration reaffirms that the state and territory shark fin laws are not in conflict with or preempted by federal law, making clear that state and federal governments both have roles to play in stamping out this cruelty. Just yesterday the New Jersey Senate overwhelmingly passed legislation to prohibit shark fin sales.
As HSLF, The HSUS, and HSI have been campaigning to end shark finning globally, we’ve seen tremendous progress and achieved comparable finning bans in the European Union, India, and numerous Latin American countries. We also actively advocate for greater protections for many vulnerable shark species at major international environmental and fisheries conventions. We applaud the administration for finalizing this important rule, demonstrating its continued commitment to combat shark finning and cementing the U.S. as a leader in global shark conservation.