April 9, 2015

Today the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) submitted their assessment of the nine current state shark fin trade bans throughout the US and have concluded that all of them will remain standing.

After a decade of strengthening our fisheries regulations, from the 2000 Federal Shark Finning Prohibition Act to State shark fin trade bans, we have dramatically increased shark protection from illegal fishing and the shark fin trade.  The United States has demonstrated that we are leaders in shark conservation.

VICTORY! But we must keep fighting for sharks.

NOAA threatened to weaken these measures and challenged State shark fin bans in 2014, suggesting that federal fisheries law might overrule the state laws that Shark Stewards and other groups worked tirelessly to establish. The Magnuson-Stevens Act states clearly that “nothing in this Act shall be construed as extending or diminishing the jurisdiction or authority of any State within its boundaries,” yet NOAA persisted.

With the aid of thousands of supporters, Shark Stewards enlisted Congressman Jared Huffman  to rally his colleagues and challenge NOAA’s pre-emptive language.

Last summer, a bipartisan group of 62 House members, led by U.S. Reps. Jared Huffman, D-Calif., and Grace Meng, D-N.Y, sent a letter to the Obama Administration urging it to revise the proposed federal rule that could undermine state bans on buying or selling shark fins. While a state Assemblyperson, Congressman Huffman led the efforts with Assemblyperson Paul Fong (D, Santa Clara) to ban the trade in shark fin products in California.

The federal Shark Conservation Act of 2010 signed by President Obama was intended to close loopholes in the original 2000 law. The language NOAA proposes adding was never intended to be part of the legislation proposed by Congress.

By preempting our state law, sharks harvested illegally or unsustainably would have allowed to again flow through California ports. During the public comment period, scientists, NGOs such as Shark Stewards, and the public have voiced strong objections to NOAA’s pre-emptions. Petitions and letters to legislators helped voice strong opposition to this weakening of hard won shark conservation.

By stopping the possession and sale of shark fins in U.S. states, we are reducing the global demand for fins, the driving force behind the cruel and unsustainable practice of shark finning. It is estimated that as many as 100 million sharks are killed annually, to supply demand for the Chinese delicacy shark fin soup. According to an Oceana analysis of NOAA data, the U.S. trade in shark fins declined by 83 percent in just one year since these bans became effective.

The Shark Conservation Act is a federal law that prohibits shark finning in U.S. waters, but stops short of banning the trade of imported fins once they enter the country. These state laws go a step further banning the possession and sale of the fins in a given state.  This is important because once a shark’s fins are it is almost impossible to determine whether or not they were obtained legally or from sustainable fisheries. By making it illegal to possess and trade fins, these state bans address this loophole while still allowing for continued legal shark fishing. As a result these state bans are critical tools in promoting shark conservation and protecting shark species around the world.

 

Shark Stewards is a non-profit project of the Earth Island Institute.

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