The global demand for shark fins will become one step smaller this week, as Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo signed legislation to ban the trade of shark fins within the state’s borders. The bill, which unanimously passed in both the Rhode Island House of Representatives and Senate last month, makes Rhode Island the eleventh state to pass such a ban, joining Hawaii, Oregon, Washington, California, Illinois, Maryland, Delaware, New York, Massachusetts, Texas, and three U.S. territories, which have all voted to stop participating in the shark fin trade all together.
Shark finning is one of the greatest threats to shark populations around the world. Shark finning is a wasteful and cruel practice which involves cutting the fins off of a shark and discarding its body at sea, often leaving the animal to drown or bleed to death. In fact, it’s estimated that up to 73 million sharks around the world make it into the global shark fin trade every year which is concerning considering that about one-quarter of all sharks and their relatives are threatened with extinction.
In 2010, Congress passed the Shark Conservation Act (SCA), which required all sharks to be landed with their fins naturally attached to their bodies in the U.S—banning shark finning in U.S. waters. However, the United States continues to import shark fins from other countries. Some of these countries have no protections for sharks in place, and some impose the decidedly ineffective fin-to-carcass ratio. This means that while the act of finning is illegal in U.S. waters, we still import fins from countries where there are no protections in place for these species.. In fact, recent studies have genetically traced shark fins and shark fin soup in the United States to protected and prohibited species, including the scalloped hammerhead which is the only shark species listed under the Endangered Species Act.
The banning of shark fins has also extended to the private world. This month, the airline HK Express out of Hong Kong announced that they will no longer carry shark fin cargo, making it the first airline out of Hong Kong to take such a step. HK Express joins 35 other airlines around the world, as well as Amazon, Grubhhub, Hong Kong Disneyland, multiple shipping companies and many hotel lines that all refuse to participate in the sale or trade of shark fins.
Only by reducing the demand for shark fin products, can we cut down on shark finning around the world. These state bans play important roles in telling the rest of the world that the U.S. is standing up for sharks. Sharks have played a vital role in maintaining healthy oceans for hundreds of millions of years, but unless we take the necessary steps to protect them, we may be on a path toward eliminating some of these amazing predators.