The United States will ban the sale of shark fins.  Here's why.

The United States will ban the sale of shark fins. Here’s why.


To save a fearsome predator from extinction, the United States is set to implement a near-total ban on the buying and selling of sliced ​​shark fins.

Late Thursday, the Senate approved language making it illegal, with few exceptions, to trade in shark fins. The provision, which the House had inserted into an annual military policy bill, is now directed to President Biden for his signature.

US lawmakers are hoping to clamp down on the global shark trade which harvests between 26 and 73 million sharks a year, according to one estimate. Fishermen overseas often cut off the fins of sharks while they are still alive and dump the bodies overboard.

The practice, called finning, leaves the fish unable to swim and survive.

“We understand that sharks are essential to life in the ocean,” Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan (D), a nonvoting House delegate for the Northern Mariana Islands who spearheaded the bipartisan bill with Rep. Michael McCaul (R-Tex.), said in a statement. “Yet, despite their ecological and economic importance, sharks have serious problems.”

But US shark fishermen warn that banning fin sales here will result in fishermen rejecting fins and will do nothing to curb overfishing in foreign waters that are not as well regulated as US fisheries. And some in Asian communities, where shark fin soup is served at holiday meals, have criticized past limits on shark fin sales as unfair.

“That would be like telling a farmer to waste half a chicken or half a cow,” said Kevin Wark, a commercial fisherman who catches sharks and burbot in Barnegat Light, NJ. “It just won’t work for us.”

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In fish markets, the fin is the most valuable part of a shark. The flat appendix is ​​a main ingredient in shark fin soup, a delicacy in China and other countries where for centuries the broth dish has traditionally been served at weddings and other major events.

But in Earth’s oceans, the apex predator is prized for a different reason.

In the popular imagination, sharks have recently gone from a demon fish that terrorizes swimmers to a conservation darling, known to help control prey populations in its position at the top of the ocean food web.

But sharks tend to grow slowly and, for some species, produce few offspring per litter, making them particularly vulnerable to overfishing. Many species are now in serious trouble.

A third of sharks, rays and related fish are threatened with extinction, making this group of species one of the most endangered vertebrates in the world.

At least a dozen states have already banned the sale of shark fins, according to environmental group WildAid. And finning is already illegal in US waters. Boats that catch sharks in the Gulf of Mexico and along the east coast must bring all the fish ashore.

American fishermen will still be able to catch sharks and sell the rest of their meat. After New Jersey implemented a statewide ban on the sale of fins, Wark said he had to cut and discard the fins to get the rest of the shark to market.

The ban, he added, is a “poster of people doing something to feel good and think they’re going to save the species.”

“It just creates a waste system,” he added.

When California enacted its own fin ban about a decade ago, it caused dismay among many Asian Americans, even those who supported the ban.

“It’s not that this ban is ‘racist’ as some have said, it’s that it’s the kind of thing that smacks a bit of cynical political posturing,” the cookbook publisher wrote. and radio host Francis Lam in a 2011 Salon article, which he said in a direct message on Twitter that he still supports today.

Shaun Gehan, a lawyer who represents commercial fishermen, said the industry had already been hit hard by a slump in sales after pro-democracy protests in Hong Kong and the coronavirus pandemic had limited access to Asian markets. The local ban, he added, does little to address unsustainable fishing practices overseas.

“It certainly hurts a small, sustainable sector of the national fishing industry. But it’s also stupid,” Gehan said. “It does nothing to fix the problem where it actually occurs.”

Gib Brogan, campaign manager for advocacy group Oceana, which supports a ban on the sale of shark fins, said: “The shark fin legislation is going to be a strong signal from the United States that the shark fin trade shark is not sustainable and that the United States will not be part of it.

“It’s been many years and many Congresses that we’ve been pushing for this,” Brogan added.

Almost all species in the global shark fin trade need to be protected

The legislation follows a vote in November by countries participating in the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) to increase the number of protected shark species.

The US ban comes with a few exceptions, including allowing the sale of fins from certain fruit bat sharks. The Defense Authorization Act would also reauthorize programs supporting coral reef conservation and marine mammal rehabilitation.

“It will be a very good thing for the oceans, not just for the sharks,” Brogan said.

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