Shark lovers can finally breathe a sigh of relief — the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has finally finished their assessment of the nine current state shark fin trade bans throughout the country and have concluded that all of them can remain standing. Last year, NOAA challenged these bans, suggesting that federal fisheries law might overrule the state laws that groups worked tirelessly to establish. Oceana fought back against these actions, and after months of public campaigning, including letters of opposition from more than 24,000 Wavemakers, the federal government has finally relented. Hawaii, the first to enact a state-based ban on the possession and trade of shark fins, was the last to receive approval on March 9, 2015.
NOAA’s decision to recognize state shark fin trade bans is critical. By stopping the possession and sale of shark fins in U.S. states, we help reduce the global demand for fins, the driving force behind the cruel and unsustainable practice of shark finning. It is estimated that up to 73 million sharks are killed annually for their fins, to supply demand for the Chinese delicacy shark fin soup.
If NOAA had found the state laws inconsistent with federal regulations, the momentum towards reducing U.S. participation in the international shark finning trade would have been halted.
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. 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.
However, there is still more NOAA can do to help sharks in the United States.
One species of major concern is the dusky shark, whose populations have plummeted by 85 percent due to overfishing and being caught on longlines in the Atlantic and Gulf. Despite the federal government acknowledging that dusky sharks were severely depleted nearly two decades ago, the northwest Atlantic population is still being overfished today due to continuing federal inaction.
The U.S. should be a leader in shark conservation and management, and must take action to protect these vulnerable creatures, including setting limits on the number of dusky sharks that can be caught and closing certain areas to longlines if those limits are reached.
As apex predators, sharks play a critical role in maintaining the health and resilience of our marine ecosystems, and NOAA’s decision to uphold the state shark fin trade bans set an important precedent for shark conservation worldwide. We commend NOAA for supporting sharks, not shark finners, and encourage the agency to act to protect dusky sharks before it’s too late.