Shark Week: Why Does Shark Fin Still Remain On The Menu Despite Statewide Bans In The U.S. Of Possession, Sale, Trade & Distribution?

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As Shark Week kicked off yesterday, sadly, restaurants across the nation are contributing to the rapid decline in various shark species by serving soup made from shark fins, despite bans in 12 states and counting.

According to an online database maintained by the Animal Welfare Institute (AWI), nearly 200 restaurants across the U.S. continue to offer shark fin products, including shark fin soup, a traditionally expensive East Asian dish associated with banquets and celebrations. Dozens of these restaurants are violating their state’s prohibition on shark fins and shark fin products. California, for instance, leads the nation in the number of restaurants offering shark fin products—59 were found by AWI in its latest audit—despite a 2013 state law that prohibits the possession, sale, trade or distribution of shark fins. In New York, which passed a similar ban in 2014, 19 restaurants continue to sell the dish.

AWI regularly contacts law enforcement officials in states with shark fin bans to investigate restaurants that violate the law.

Bills banning the sale of shark fins are pending in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Connecticut, Florida and Rhode Island.

“The United States is a major producer, exporter and trade stop for shark fins,” said Cathy Liss, President of AWI in a statement. “Clearly, the existing patchwork of state laws and uneven enforcement have failed to shut down a lucrative billion-dollar industry. When shark fin soup is on the menu, so is animal cruelty.”

Shark finning is the inhumane practice of cutting off a shark’s fins—often while the shark is still alive—and throwing the mutilated body in the ocean, where the helplessly immobile animal will suffocate, bleed to death, or succumb to an attack by a predator. It is an unnecessarily cruel and senseless practice that is decimating shark populations and unleashing cascading effects throughout marine ecosystems around the world.

An estimated 73 million sharks are killed annually for their fins alone. While the United States prohibits shark finning in federal waters, there is no nationwide ban on the sale of shark fins, fueling the global shark fin trade. Sharks are apex predators and crucial to a functioning marine ecosystem, yet a quarter of all shark and ray species are listed as threatened or endangered. Earlier this month, the International Union for Conservation of Nature classified all but one of the 16 warm-water flat shark species as critically endangered—with declines of more than 80% over the past 30 to 45 years—primarily due to overfishing and shark finning.

Last month, Canada, the largest importer of shark fins outside of Asia, banned shark fin imports and exports. AWI endorses the Shark Fin Sales Elimination Act of 2019 (H.R. 737/S.877), which would make it illegal “to possess, buy, or sell shark fins or any product containing shark fins.” Further, this federal legislation would enhance existing state bans by preventing shark fins from entering those markets via interstate commerce.

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