Earlier this month, the European Union agreed to tighten an existing ban on shark finning, the practice of cutting off a shark’s fins while the animal is still alive, and then throwing the shark overboard to die. Once the change comes into effect, the ban will forbid the removal of shark fins at sea by all vessels in EU waters, and by all EU-registered vessels anywhere in the world.
The proposed new law closes a loophole in EU rules that allowed fishermen with special permits to remove fins from sharks at sea and then land fins and bodies in separate ports. Hundreds of large commercial vessels were granted these permits annually, and these exemptions made enforcement nearly impossible. Under the tighter rules, all fishermen will have to land sharks with their fins attached. This amendment to the 2003 legislation is significant because the EU is one of the largest exporters of shark fins to Asia.
Shark fins for sale in Beijing, China
The United States has strict shark finning bans in federal and state waters (with one exception for smooth dogfish sharks) and comprehensive shark management and conservation policies.
However, despite the prohibition on the practice of finning off of our shores, it may come as a surprise that the U.S. is the largest market for consumption of shark fins outside Asia.
Several states and territories have enacted legislation prohibiting the possession, sale, trade and distribution of shark fins within their jurisdictions – a critical consumer and sales complement to the fisheries policies. Just in the last few years, we’ve successfully pushed for anti-finning policies in California, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Oregon, and Washington, and all the three Pacific territories. New York, which is the largest market for shark fins on the Atlantic Coast, should follow soon, after Governor Cuomo signs a bill passed overwhelmingly in both chambers of the legislature.
But the fight to halt finning isn’t over. The National Marine Fisheries Service recently issued a proposed rule that may threaten these positive state laws by claiming federal legislation on fisheries management preempts the state bans. We will be submitting comments urging the NMFS to reconsider and we ask that you do the same. As the EU moves toward stronger shark protection measures, let’s not let our country move in the opposite direction.
P.S. Please join me during a live virtual interview I’ll be doing as a participant in Spring of Sustainability on June 12, at 4 pm PDT/ 7 pm EDT. Interviews and panels by more than 60 sustainability leaders are taking place until June 14, and all are available to listen to for free via phone or Internet. Register Here. You’ll have a chance to ask me questions at the end of my interview.