We Must Stop The Trade of Shark Fins

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Much of our work has been focused on fighting the trade of shark fins. 

Lets get right to the point:

  • Shark finning and the trade of shark fins is responsible for 73-100 million sharks being killed every year!
  • 70 percent 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 percent in recent decades due to overfishing
  • Although shark finning is illegal in U.S. waters (Shark Conservation Act of 2010), the act is still occurring: Miami Herald - Butchered shark fins seized...
  • While shark finning is illegal in U.S. waters, shark fins – including imports from countries that allow finning – continue to be bought and sold throughout the U.S.
  • In fact, NOAA records show over 85 alleged shark finning cases since January 2010

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

 
 
 

In 2010 we recognized an unique opportunity when Hawaii State Senator Clayton Hee introduced a bill to ban the sale, possession and trade of shark fins in Hawaii. At the time, there wasn’t much hope in the conservation world that this would have a chance of passing. But we dove in, committed fully and rallied the forces. Hawaii became the first State to pass such a law. Eleven other US States and many Pacific island Nations have followed the example.

We have made progress, but the battle continues. Along with the success, the opposition to fin bans has also grown. 

It is crucial that we do not let off the pressure to stop the trade of shark fins.

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 Fins on a drying rack  (all photos by  @PangeaSeed.org  )

Fins on a drying rack  (all photos by @PangeaSeed.org )

Shark Fin Trade Elimination Act of 2018

After the success of 12 State bans, a federal act was introduced to congress (via Senate and House bills)

Senate Bill S. 793    
Lead sponsors: Sens. Cory Booker (D-N.J.) and Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.)
It was recently advanced by the Senate Commerce Committee: (see Oceana's press release)

House Bill H.R. 1456
Lead sponsors: Reps. Ed Royce (R-Calif.) and Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan (D-M.P.)
It was introduced (press release)


For more information and some excellent data sheets, check out Oceana’s page on the Act

Needless to say, we will do everything we can to support these measures. Please take action by contacting your representatives and asking them to support these bills.

A nationwide ban on the trade of shark fins would reduce the international fin trade, improve enforcement of the current finning ban, and reinforce the status of the United States as a leader in shark conservation.

 
 
 

What is happening in Florida?

12 US States have decided to move ahead with a ban. Florida is the ONLY State where two attempts to pass a bill have failed, despite the fact that it is now the Hub for the fin trade in the US.  Miami Herald: Miami now nation's top importer of shark fins

There are two bills introduced to create distraction from the Fin Elimination Act. Both are sponsored by Florida representatives. They are called Sustainable Shark Fisheries and Trade Act. From the looks of it, the representatives from Florida are intent on keeping legal fins on the market. (This is a problem, because it will create an avenue for illegal fins.) They propose to limit fin imports to the US to countries that manage fisheries as well as the US. 

Nothing wrong with wanting to better manage fisheries, but these bills are pitched as better alternatives to the Fin Elimination Act and therefore are counteracting its success.

It is important to mention that 189 businesses and organizations from Florida, including  100 dive-businesses are supporting the Shark Fin Elimination Act.

 
 
 A bag filled with fresh shark fins

A bag filled with fresh shark fins

Why fin bans? 

Sharks face multiple threats. Fin bans are addressing one of the many urgent steps we need to take. There is no delusion that they will solve all the problems. They are an important step to make a big dent in how many sharks we are losing. And they are meant to give the authorities something they can actually enforce. In some cases Fin bans may be mostly symbolic because the state didn’t have much of a trade, but the Legislature and the people decided to make their position clear and take a stand against the fin trade. 
Shark fin bans and managed fisheries are not mutually exclusive. There seems to be a lot of confusion about that issue. Shark fin trade bans address the trade of a product, not sport fishing or commercial fishing in general.
 

Why not just regulate imports and exports? - We seem to be unable to properly monitor the movement of fins. There are discrepancies in the estimates of the number of shark fins that  are actually entering and leaving the United States.

  • According to the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO), other countries reported exporting 1,012 metric tons of shark fins to the United States in 2007. However, that same year, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) only reported 28.8 metric tons of shark fin imports.
  • In 2011, NOAA reported 38 metric tons of shark fin exports from the United States, yet according to the FAO, other countries reported importing 295 metric tons of shark fins from the United States.

It is clear that we can't tell the difference between domestic and imported fins. Only a full trade ban can ensure that we are not participating in the global trade of fins.

 
 
 

banning the trade vs banning "finning" or "landed whole"

Five of the 11 countries that export fins to the United States have no shark finning bans in place, making it very likely that fins coming into the U.S. are from sharks that have been finned. The act of “finning” is illegal in the US and many countries around the world. Most of these countries require for sharks to be “landed whole”, meaning you can’t cut the fins off a live shark and throw the body back in the ocean. 


The two major problems with that are:
a)    The practice of “finning” continues because it is extremely difficult to monitor what is done at sea. Landed whole can only be enforced before the sharks are processed, which happens very quickly after the carcasses arrive on land. Once fins are cut, there is no way to tell where they came from. If fins are found in a warehouse, there is no way to tell whether they came from sharks that were finned at sea or from legal fisheries. Allowing “legal” fins keeps the channel open for illegal fins.


b)    Because of the high value of fins, it is worth bringing in the whole shark, even if the body is wasted. Most shark species do not have high grade meat. In some places the bodies are thrown out after they are landed. It has also incentivized development of more shark products. Without the value of fins, sharks would be commercially a lot less interesting (with the exception of certain species that are valued for their meat).

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More than 70 shark species are at risk of extinction.

 
 

Enforcement issues

On the fin front, banning the possession, sale and trade of fins is the only measure that is realistically enforceable. It is sad that we, as a species, tend to over exploit and are not willing to use a resource wisely until things get bad enough that rules have to be made. As long as there are loopholes people will find a way to exploit them. 

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.
When selling or having a fin is illegal, it makes enforcement simple and effective.

 

     Sharks being processed at a harbor in Japan

    Sharks being processed at a harbor in Japan

     
     Bags of dried fins

    Bags of dried fins

    Be part of the problem or part of the solution

    No matter how well managed a fishery may be, it should not contribute to the international trade of a product that is wiping out sharks globally. 
    Even though the demand is in the Asian market, and demand reduction is ultimately the key, we still have to decide whether we want to be part of the problem or take a stand against the trade. Period. Just like ivory, rhino horn and other products that are wiping out whole species of animals.
     

    What about permitted shark fisheries?

    If permitted shark fisheries exist, they can continue their livelihoods, without selling fins. Many States have implemented this rule. Enforcement Agencies create a protocol to collect the fins and discard them once the sharks have been landed. 

    Whether shark fisheries can actually be sustainable is another argument. This is, of course, part of the larger picture and will have to be addressed. The disagreement over that issue shouldn’t prevent us from seeing that the trade of fins must stop. 

     
     

    Extinction risk is greater for larger-bodied, shallow-water species, some of the most common species that end up in the fin trade

     
     

    The argument of "wasting a resource"

    Some will argue that we should not be wasting part of the shark, when it is already dead. This ignores the fact that most sharks are dead because of the fin in the first place, not the other way around. 
    We have had to take this route with many other species, i.e. elephants, rhinos, narwhals, and great whale species. All of these have bans on “trade” in their parts, but can still be hunted (albeit limited) in certain regions.

    Let’s be real. We have proven again and again that we are incapable of keeping greed at bay. When do we ever just use what we need.? We do not use resources holistically by any stretch of the imagination, unless there are some clear lines drawn by the law.

    Furthermore, if a fishery is not economically viable without selling the fins of sharks, then maybe it simply isn’t viable?  Utilizing the whole animal doesn’t make the practice more sustainable. 

     
     
     Salmon sharks, Kesenuma, Japan

    Salmon sharks, Kesenuma, Japan

    Achieving “Optimal Yield”

    Opponents of fin bans will inevitably point to the Magnuson Stevens Act, our main fisheries law in the US. People like to cherry-pick the part of the mandate that states…
     - Providing for the implementation of fishery management plans (FMPs) which achieve optimal yield -
    Optimal yield does not mean get-the-most-you- can, it means you figure out what is "optimal" considering all factors.
    This includes the value of other industries, such as eco-tourism and diving, and the benefit every human being receives from having healthy ocean eco systems. So, in some instances, optimal yield may mean not taking anything.

    • Shark watchers spend an estimated $314 million on shark ecotourism every year, and researchers expect that to double to $780 million in 20 years.
    • According to a recent study, sharks are the top species U.S. scuba divers want to see, and they will pay $35 extra per dive to see a shark.

    Furthermore, lets not forget that the mandate of the MSAct also states:
     - Acting to conserve fishery resources - 

     - Promoting fishing in line with conservation principles -
     

     
     

    The ultimate question we have to ask ourselves is whether we choose to be part of a trade that is wiping out one of the most important species in the ocean, or are we willing e tough decisions before it is too late.

     
     

    The demand for shark fins is one of the greatest threats facing shark populations around the world