The U.S. Supreme Court yesterday refused to consider an appeal to overturn legislation that prohibits the sale, trade, and possession of shark fins in California, in a major victory not only for sharks, but also for the right of states to set rules for stopping the abuse of the marine species.
The Supreme Court decision is the fifth federal court ruling upholding the California law, and it marks the final chapter in this long-running litigation. The decision is also good news for nine other states that have passed similar laws to protect sharks from live finning.
The ruling should spur the Administration to finalize regulations to implement the Shark Conservation Act, passed by Congress in 2010 and signed into law by President Obama. The Act would close loopholes in the federal law that protects sharks from finning in U.S. waters. That rule has been pending for several years, largely due to questions about the interplay between state and federal regulatory frameworks. The Supreme Court’s decision puts to bed any question that state laws prohibiting the sale of shark fins are in conflict with federal law, or are otherwise unconstitutional. It is a legitimate exercise of state authority to eliminate local demand for products that are the result of inhumane and unsustainable production practices.
Shark finning is an abhorrent practice that deserves the support of no one. The shark’s fins are sliced off and the live animal is dumped back into the sea to drown or bleed to death. Unsustainable fishing methods like these have caused a decline of as much as 90 percent among some shark populations in recent decades. It is cruel and it’s an ecologically devastating activity.
The United States is among the world’s top shark-catching countries and a significant exporter and importer of shark fins. Worldwide each year, it is estimated that upwards of 70 million sharks are hunted for their fins. But there is good news: in recent years, the war against shark finning has gained momentum, with dozens of nations implementing strong bans on shark finning, including the European Union, India, and numerous Latin American countries. By finalizing the rule implementing the Shark Conservation Act, the United States would be more aligned with the policies of these other governments.
In addition to the 10 states and three U.S. territories that prohibit shark fin sales in their jurisdictions, others are seeking to do the same. The Rhode Island House of Representatives has unanimously passed legislation, following the senate passage of a companion bill, to prohibit the possession and sales of shark fins. One of our nation’s leading humane legislators, New Jersey Senator Raymond Lesniak, has introduced similar legislation in his state to take on the shark fin industry. The Pennsylvania legislature is also reviewing a ban on shark fin sales: it’s befitting that the Keystone state aspires to protect one of the ocean’s keystone species.
All of these efforts to end shark finning, strengthened by yesterday’s Supreme Court action, show there is a strong consensus among legislators and the American public that these animals belong in the wild, and not in a bowl of soup. The Obama Administration can finalize the rule and deal a body blow to America’s role in this heinous global trade.