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2014 – Shark Finning

It is now illegal to possess, sell, trade or distribute shark fins or shark fin products in Massachusetts. An Act Relative to Ocean Ecology and Shark Protection (H. 4088) was signed into law July 24, 2014.

Report any shark fin or shark fin products (such as shark fin soup) you see for sale or on a menu. Call the MA Environmental Police at 1-800-632-8075.

Sharks’ plight is exacerbated by massive demand worldwide, including in Massachusetts, for their fins.

Sharks have inhabited our oceans for 400 million years, but now scientists warn that existing shark populations cannot sustain the current level of exploitation. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species has estimated that 30 percent of pelagic (open ocean) sharks are threatened with extinction.[1]

Like the slaughter of African elephants for their ivory, massive overfishing of sharks is largely driven by the market for their fins—which can be worth anywhere from 20 to 250 times the value of the meat, depending on the species. Every year, tens of millions of sharks[2] are killed for their fins, primarily for use in shark fin soup. H. 4088 will ensure that Massachusetts ceases to be a part of the destructive global shark fin trade by banning the possession, trade, and sale of shark fins. Similar bans exist in Hawaii, California, Washington, Oregon, Illinois, Delaware, Maryland, New York, American Samoa, Northern Mariana Islands, and Guam.

Restricting market access will reduce the demand for fins and deter the inhumane, wasteful and unsustainable practice of finning. The demand for shark fins drives the cruel practice of shark finning where a shark’s fins are cut off, often while the animal is still alive, and the rest of the shark is thrown back into the ocean. Without their fins, sharks cannot swim, and often die from shock, blood loss, starvation or predation by other fish. Fortunately, shark finning is prohibited by both federal and state law; however the U.S. market, including in Massachusetts, for fins continues to fuel the practice in foreign and high seas where shark finning bans and conservation measures and enforcement capacity are often lacking. Currently, there are more than a dozen restaurants and businesses that sell shark fin soup and shark fin products in Massachusetts.

There is no way to track the origin of shark fins and ensure they are coming from legal and sustainable fisheries. Shark fins sold in the U.S. largely do not come from U.S. fishermen. More than 90% of shark fin imports into the U.S. come from Hong Kong, which imports fins from over 80 countries for processing—including countries that have no bans on finning or very lax restrictions. After the fins are processed, they are re-exported from Hong Kong or mainland China to markets around the world, including to the U.S., for retail sales. Because of this, fins sold in the U.S. can come from sharks that were finned or even from endangered or threatened species. A study conducted by Stony Brook University’s Institute for Ocean Conservation Science in New York[3] revealed that 33 different species of sharks turned up in samples collected in 14 cities. DNA testing showed that the fins of IUCN endangered scalloped hammerhead shark was among the species found in Boston.

Sharks are critical for healthy oceans. As predators at or near the top of marine food chains, sharks are vital to a healthy marine ecosystem. As research shows, the massive depletion of sharks has cascading effects throughout oceans’ ecosystems.[4]  Complicating matters, many sharks are particularly vulnerable to overfishing because they are slow to reach maturity and produce few offspring.

H. 4088 does not harm Massachusetts fishermen because the economic impact is minimal.
In Massachusetts, legal and sustainable fisheries for smooth-hounds, spiny dogfish and skates exist and trade data indicate that these species are primarily valued for their meat destined for Europe. As such, the bill exempts these three species from the ban on the possession, sale, and trade of shark fins. In addition, the bill does not prevent fishers from selling a legally caught whole shark, regardless of the species, with its fins naturally attached to processors and distributors. This bill will not create any additional burden among law-abiding fishermen and should have minimal economic impact on the Massachusetts fishing industry.

Massachusetts, with a long tradition in ocean conservation, should join U.S. and global trend in shark protection.

[1] IUCN press release, June 25, 2009. “Third of open ocean sharks threatened with extinction.” http://www.iucn.org/?3362/Third-of-open-ocean-sharks-threatened-with-extinction

[2] S. Clarke, et al., “Global estimates of shark catches using trade records from commercial markets,”Ecology Letters, 9:10, Blackwell Publishing Ltd/CNRS, 2006, pp. 1115-1126,www.iccs.org.uk/papers/Clarke2006EcologyLetters.pdf

[3] Shark fin soup study in the U.S., Aug 2012, http://www.oceanconservationscience.org/media/2012/nr_2012.08.08.shtml

[4] Myers, R.A., Baum, J.K., Shepherd, T.D., Powers, S.P. and Peterson, C.H. 2007. Cascading effects of the loss of apex predatory sharks from a coastal ocean. Science 315: 1846-1850.

 

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