By January Jones, Andrew Sharpless
Commuters traveling through the metro station near the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) headquarters might notice something unusual -- a series of ads posted by Oceana urging NOAA to protect sharks and not shark finners. NOAA is tasked with "the management, conservation and protection of" our nation's "living marine resources," so it might come as a surprise that the agency is challenging state laws that help protect sharks.
Each year, shark finners slaughter as many as 73 million sharks for shark fin soup. Slaughter is no understatement -- they typically hack off every one of a shark's fins before hurling the shark back overboard, dead or dying. The insatiable demand for shark fins has already contributed to population declines as high as 90 percent for many species.
The U.S. government banned shark finning in U.S. waters in 2000, but until recently the trade in shark fins was still legal across the country. Between 2010 and 2013, eight U.S. states and two territories passed bans on trade in shark fins. By closing a large percentage of the U.S. market and reducing demand, the state bans help protect sharks globally. Previously, an average 68 percent of the shark fins imported into the U.S. were imported into the eight states that enacted these bans.
Visibility around the gruesome act of shark finning, as well as its ecological implications, is starting to have an impact. Hong Kong, the world's center for shark fins, committed to drop shark fin soup from the menus of official functions, and a string of Asian airlines will no longer carry shark fins as cargo.
But this May, NOAA threatened to halt this positive momentum by proposing a new rule claiming that federal law may preempt, or overrule, state shark fin bans. NOAA argued that the state bans may interfere with fisheries management, because they might restrict a U.S. fisherman's ability to catch a shark and then sell the fins later. None of the state bills address fishing, as finning is already illegal in U.S. waters. Instead, the state bans complement federal shark conservation law by blocking trade in fins.
Banning shark finning but allowing shark fins just doesn't make sense. By trying to circumvent state bans, NOAA is actually aiding shark finners globally and ignoring the immense conservation benefits these simple state bans offer. They're also ignoring the will of state representatives who put these bans in place, often with bipartisan support.
Sharks are slow to mature and produce few offspring, which means that populations may be unable to recover from the enormous impact of finning. And it's not just about sharks -- these apex predators help maintain the fine-tuned equilibrium of our ocean's ecosystems, which means that threats to sharks can affect everything from coral reefs to healthy fish populations. More....