Why We Need Fin Trade Laws

 Shark fin processing. Photo by PangeaSeed Foundation. 

Shark fin processing. Photo by PangeaSeed Foundation. 


Things are worse than the public realizes

Shark populations are endangered due to multiple threats. The biggest threat by far is the trade of fins. Ending the trade in our own backyard is what we need to do, it is what we can do. Much of what goes on in commercial fisheries goes unnoticed.

  • 100 million sharks are killed each year and the fins from up to 73 million sharks are sold for shark fin soup.

  • 70% of the 14 most common shark species involved are considered at high or very high risk of extinction.
  • Some shark populations have declined by more than 90% in recent decades due to overfishing.


More than 70 shark species are at risk of extinction.


Focusing on the trade

Individual fishermen may make a little bit of extra money from fins, and restaurants may enjoy the status of offering the dish, but the real money is made by the traders. The same organizations that deal with fins are often involved in other illegal dealings, such as endangered species products or drug and human trafficking. The sale and trade of a product that rivals the drug trade must be addressed differently than other fisheries management issues. 

The profits made from fins ensure that the overfishing of sharks continues, year after year. It will only end when we run out of sharks. These profits made by a few rob the rest of us from a sustainable future. Shark fin trade laws address the trade of a product that is harming us all, no matter where you live or what you do for a living. Recreational and subsistence fishermen do not need to worry that their fishing rights are affected, as long as they do not try to profit from the sale of fins. 


We can continue to blame others, or we can take action.


Enforcement Issues

On the fin front, prohibiting the possession, sale and trade of fins is the only measure that is realistically enforceable.

Having a clear ruling makes it infinitely easier for enforcement agencies, which are underfunded and understaffed in just about every single state. They do not have the capacity to police every ship at sea and they cannot control what is landed every day in every harbor. With shark and shark fins, there is the added problem of identifying species. In the case of fins, once they are cut off, they are often indistinguishable unless a DNA test is done, making it extremely hard to tell whether they came from endangered species or not. It is also hard to trace whether they came from state or federal waters, whether they were imported, transshipped at sea or taken locally. There are so many ways to get around the rules that enforcement becomes impossible. 

A law that stops the sale and trade takes care of the majority of these loopholes, because it doesn't matter where the fin came from, why it was taken, or what species it came from. It can also be enforced on land (ports, airports, restaurants, shops, transport companies) and alleviates the problem of relying on fisheries enforcement, which usually takes place only at sea or at the docks.

For more in-depth articles about finning, fin soup and the trade, check out our shark knowledge section.


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Stefanie Brendl