Good news for sharks. After a massive public response supporting state bans on the trade in shark fins, on February 4, 2014 NOAA sent letters to the state governments in California, Maryland and Washington, confirming that their state fin trade bans are consistent with federal law and will not be overruled. For more information on the decision click here: http://www.nmfs.noaa.gov/mediacenter/2014/02/04_02_sca_state_fed_consistent.html Thanks to all who submitted comments to NOAA in support of these state efforts to protect sharks!
Shark finning is the inhumane practice of cutting off a shark’s fins, often while the shark is still alive, and discarding the body into the ocean to die of suffocation or be attacked by predators because it is rendered unable to swim. The commercial value of shark fins is high compared to their meat; by keeping only the fins, fishing vessels can take more sharks on a single voyage, making the hunting ruthlessly efficient. Although shark fin itself is tasteless and the flavor of the soup comes from other ingredients, the soup is viewed as a delicacy and status symbol by some Asian cultures and is commonly served at weddings and other special events. Traditionally an expensive dish, shark fin soup is increasingly sold more cheaply. As economies grow in Asia, a dish once reserved for the elite is now available to many more consumers, and is in demand in many Asian communities around the world, including across the United States.
The Shark Conservation Act of 2010 (SCA) was passed to combat finning by requiring that sharks in U.S. waters be landed with their fins naturally attached. Ten U.S. states and territories (California, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Oregon, Washington, American Samoa, Guam, and Northern Mariana Islands) have also enacted laws that ban shark fin trade, making it illegal to sell, trade, or possess shark fins within their borders.
NOAA’s National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) has now proposed a rule to implement the SCA. This is welcomed—but NMFS is proposing to do it in a way that would undermine these stringent local trade bans. In NMFS’ explanation of its proposed rule, it interprets the less stringent federal law as preempting state and territorial laws on grounds that they interfere with the purposes and objectives of the Magnuson-Stevens Act (MSA), which the SCA amends.
We challenge NMFS’ interpretation because these state laws only ban the sale, distribution and possession of shark fins within their territorial borders, and in no way usurp laws applicable to fishing in federal waters. Indeed the MSA states “…nothing in this Act shall be construed as extending or diminishing the jurisdiction or authority of any State within its boundaries.” The SCA, state and territorial laws should work together toward the common goal of ending the extermination of sharks for the culinary satisfaction of relatively few diners.
The SCA was not intended to put commercial interests ahead of the need to conserve shark populations that are at such great risk. We are therefore urging NMFS to issue rules to implement the SCA that will complement and enhance state and territory measures aimed at prohibiting the possession and sale of shark fins, not preempt them. Please join us in this effort.
What You Can Do:
Please visit the NOAA comment page by the July 8 deadline [UPDATE: Comment deadline extended to July 31] and indicate that, while you support the proposed rule, you don’t want state laws undermined by its passage. Below are some suggested talking points to include in your comments. Please note that on the comment page, the only required fields are your first and last name and the comment box itself. However, we suggest that you personalize your message and include your city and state of residence so that it can have a greater impact. The suggested talking points are as follows:
- Please issue rules to implement the provisions of the Shark Conservation Act (SCA) without undermining state laws that ban trade in shark fins.
- Several shark species are destined for extinction unless finning and trade in fins end. This can be achieved by passing laws that require sharks to be landed whole AND by banning trade in fins. The SCA achieves the former, and local bans achieve the latter.
- State and territorial shark fin trade bans do not conflict with the Magnuson-Stevens Act because they do not prohibit or limit fishing in federal waters. They merely place a ban on selling, trading, or possessing fins within the borders of the states and territories that have enacted such laws.
- The SCA should work in concert with state and territorial laws. When combined with these laws, the SCA takes shark conservation a huge step forward by requiring that sharks be landed with fins naturally attached. Conversely, undermining the existing bans on shark fin trade in 10 states and territories would be a step backward from the progress that has been made for shark conservation.
Please share our “Dear Humanitarian” eAlert with family, friends and co-workers, and encourage them to send a message to NMFS also.
As always, thank you very much for your help!