Shark Fin Controversy

State and federal governments debate shark finning laws

| posted on June 27, 2014
A metro ad created by the Oceana targeted at NOAA.

A metro ad created by the Oceana targeted at NOAA.

NOAA, the federal agency responsible for overseeing the country’s oceans and atmosphere, is attempting to strengthen an existing federal law against shark finning. While it would be easy to assume that advocates for the protection of sharks would be greeting these measures warmly, the reality is anything but.

As it currently stands, under federal law shark finning is illegal in the United States, but the specific trade of shark fins is allowed. Over the course of the past few years, eight US states (CA, WA, ME, HI, IL, DE, NY, OR) have passed stringent laws banning shark finning and the trade or possession of shark fins in their waters and territories.  NOAA is hoping to implement a new rule that would see the existing federal law preempt the state laws. (When challenged, federal laws will typically supersede state laws.)

Pew, an advocacy group based out of D.C., has been a vocal proponent of ending shark finning—an act that claims the lives of tens of millions of sharks every year—as well as the trade of shark fins and believes that the existing state laws are infinitely more effective at protecting sharks than the federal law.

Under federal law, sharks have to be brought to shore with their fins attached, but there have been instances where some fishermen would find loopholes either by “stacking” the fins—essentially by declaring one or two carcasses while bringing in numerous fins—or transferring a large amount of fins to other non-fishing boats.

Why would NOAA want to have the federal law preempt the state law? Essentially, they believe that the federal law is effective, but the state laws go too far and bans the fishing of sharks altogether. Further, they believe that a market exists for shark meat and that market should be respected.

Pew’s Angelo Villagomez, who has been closely following the developments, believes that the federal government should let the states implement their own laws protecting sharks.

“The rule being proposed by NOAA, who have jurisdiction over federal fisheries, could override the state trade laws that Pacific states and Territories put into place to enhance conservation of these critical [shark] populations,” said Villagomez. “If the federal government is successful, sharks caught in the waters off of Hawaii could be once again caught, landed and their fins exported. NOAA should take notice of the extremely strong opposition to any attempts to overturn state laws, including from members of congress, governors, state senators, and 180,000 supporters.”

Beginning last year, Oceana, an organization focused on ocean conservation, launched an ad campaign in New York City targeted at NOAA’s decision to challenge state laws.

“NOAA’s action just doesn’t make sense,” said Dominique Cano-Stocco, campaign director at Oceana. “The state laws are incredibly important. By stopping the trade of shark fins, states are helping to close a loophole in the federal law. NOAA should side with sharks, not shark finners.”

It’s estimated that more than 70 million sharks are killed every year. Much of the demand comes from Asia, where shark fin soup is a delicacy. As the ocean’s apex predator, environmental advocates worry that their demise could create serious problems for our oceans.

“I really hope that the federal law doesn’t supersede the state law,” says Mike Coots, who lost his leg in a shark attack but remains an advocate for their protection. “We’ve worked really hard to end the practice here in Hawaii and other states have followed our lead. It would be a real blow for our movement if the state law is challenged by the federal law.”

  • borehead

    The US has legal shark fisheries. Fins are a by product. What to do? What to do!
    The extremist eniro groups like Oceana, created from the wealth foundation funds of Joe Pew (sun oil co), and used to crucify US fishermen continues. From ridicules non stop reports designed to drive donor contributions of the un informed, based on emotional reaction to campaigns such as this, they continue un encumbered.
    There is no plausible reason for states to ban any legal product produced by US fishermen.

    • Chris Wade

      I beg to differ amigo and sadly after so many years of putting our head in the sand – we have real challenges and real issues that face our world today. We as humans are going to have to adapt and change because of our our past actions. Laugh and say I am wrong but actually – We are already doing it. We must learn to manage our planet properly as a sustainable resource rather than look at the things in the world as a commodity that we are privy to take at will. These are pieces of a critical ecosystem that will collapse with continued pressure – believe it or not. Captain Chris Wade – Research Vessel – Sea Watch – Shark Boat

      • borehead

        US Fisheries are managed by law to be sustainable. You did not answer the question asked, but replied with special interest dogma!

        • Chris Wade

          Sadly – you are incorrect sir. The USA fisheries are managed to keep people working and fishing lobbyist & voters happy. The question of what to do is a simple one. Take a stance as Bahamas and go to no shark fishing. Special interest is a two way street sir. I will mention that the fishing lobby is much larger than the conservation lobby and backed by much greater funding across the board. Yes – I want to see the oceans ecosystems protected before it is too late – that comes from someone that used to take from the ocean for a living and saw the decline happening first hand. I now protect the ocean and her supporting ecosystems because I know it must stop. Reminds me of being a kid and my dad saying climate change was a bunch of hubbub – where clearly – climate change is real and happening now. I hope that you will look at the bigger picture and take into account rather than drawing lines in the sand. Although I do not fear lines in the sand… I fight poachers in marine protected areas and will defend my side with vigor.

  • Fred Branham

    Put a bag limit on them. hello i have been were you can walk on sharks there so thick.

    • Chris Wade

      While that may be true in some areas Fred… Question is – are you sure that is the right amount of sharks – maybe there were supposed to be more? maybe you should not have to go as far to find them. maybe that was a middle predator filling the gap because we have already taken out the large predator from that system. There is much to this. I suggest grabbing a hold of your planet and becoming involved in really understanding where we are at rather than blindly putting a blanket statement across this and calling it good in your mind. Cause… it is not. That is why people are fighting to save it before it is too late. Think about it. The things people are saying have been being said since the 60’s. Maybe there is something to this…. I remember people saying the global warming thing was bull too… do you think that is the case? Ocean acidification is not happening? Ice caps are not melting? Our actions have impacted our world. It is time to check those actions before further damage is done.

      • tonigianelli

        Aw, poor Fred! He’s so illiterate. Chris, you can’t really argue with stupid.

  • Ken5745

    ‘Western Hypocrisy in the Shark’s Fin debate’. For more see link :