Closing the Barbaric Shark Fin Market

Annie Hornish

Every year, tens of millions of sharks are killed globally for their fins, mostly to be used for shark fin soup. The demand for shark fins drives the cruel practice of shark finning, in which a shark’s fins are cut off, usually while the animal is still alive, and the rest of the shark is thrown back into the ocean. Without fins, the mutilated shark cannot swim and dies slowly and painfully from blood loss, starvation or predation by other fish.

 

Shark finning is inhumane, wasteful and unsustainable. Fortunately, the practice of shark finning is prohibited by federal law— but the U.S. market for fins continues to fuel the practice.

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Photo credit: The Humane Society of the United States

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Shark finning is inhumane, wasteful, and unsustainable. Photo credit: The Humane Society of the United States

Unless we close markets, we continue to incentivize the practice. There is no practical way to track the origin of all shark fins that enter the market to ensure that they are coming from legal and sustainable fisheries. Shark fins sold in the U.S. largely do not come from U.S. fishers. Most shark fin imports into the U.S. come from China and Hong Kong, both of which import fins from more than 80 countries for processing – including countries that have no bans on finning or have very lax restrictions. After the fins are processed (an extremely labor-intensive process), they are exported from Hong Kong or mainland China to markets around the world, including the U.S., for retail sale. Thus, fins sold in the U.S. can come from sharks that were finned, or even from endangered or threatened species. For example, a study conducted by Stony Brook University's Institute for Ocean Conservation Science in New York revealed that 33 different species of sharks turned up in samples collected in 14 U.S. cities. Included was the scalloped hammerhead shark that the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) identifies as endangered.

 

Connecticut’s Part in Stopping the Shark Fin Trade

Fortunately, a bill (HB 5251) championed by Representative David Michel (D-Stamford) will help Connecticut do its part to stop the brutal shark fin trade, joining California, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Massachusetts, Maryland, New Hampshire, Nevada, New York, Oregon, Rhode Island, Texas, Washington,  American Samoa, Northern Mariana Islands and Guam, that have already banned the possession, sale and trade of shark fins.

 

As predators at or near the top of marine food chains, sharks are vital to a healthy marine ecosystem. The massive depletion of sharks affects oceans’ ecosystems. Complicating matters, sharks are particularly vulnerable to overfishing because they are slow to reach maturity and produce very few offspring.

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 IUCN Red List of Threatened Species has estimated that a quarter of all shark and ray species are threatened with extinction. Like the slaughter of African elephants for their ivory, massive overfishing of sharks is largely driven by the market for their fins, and we in Connecticut must do our part to close these markets.

Annie Hornish is the Connecticut Senior State Director for The Humane Society of the United States and a member of Sierra Club Connecticut.