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October 29, 2009

Man Bites Shark Protections

I have written before about shark finning and the Shark Conservation Act (H.R. 81/S. 850). Decent people are outraged over the gruesome and wasteful practice of shark finning—cutting the fins off a shark and throwing the animal back overboard to languish and die. Earlier this year, the U.S. House of Representatives approved the Shark Conservation Act of 2009, but the U.S. Senate has not yet taken action. This appears, in part, to be due to objections by fishing industry representatives in North Carolina and Virginia.

Sen. John Kerry introduced the bill in April after the House passed its measure, and his version has 18 Senate co-sponsors. There is, however, a small but vocal group from the fishing industry seeking an exception for a species of shark called the smooth dogfish, caught off the coasts of Virginia and North Carolina.

Smooth dogfish shark
A smooth dogfish shark.

Regulations went into effect in U.S. Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico federal waters in July 2008 requiring that all sharks be landed with their fins naturally attached—the only way to ensure that finning has not occurred. But a year later, in August 2009, smooth dogfish fishermen successfully fought for an exemption applied to state waters (3 miles from the coast) so they can remove the fins from smooth dogfish sharks at sea. Now they are pushing their senators to write similar language into the federal bill, which would apply to all waters within 200 miles of the U.S. coast.

The industry argues that these sharks are caught in high volume and their meat is in demand, so they want to process the meat quickly at sea rather than waiting until they land. Basically, they want a shortcut that could topple efforts to ban removal of shark fins at sea.

Everyone I have spoken to about shark finning agrees that the United States should put an end to this cruel and wasteful practice once and for all. Landing sharks with their fins attached allows enforcement agents to be sure that sharks were not finned alive and to more easily identify the species. Fins without a shark or a shark without his fins can be difficult for even experts to properly identify. For example, smooth dogfish with their fins cut off look an awful lot like sandbar sharks, a species that has declined to the point where their fishing is banned in the very same waters where smooth dogfish are being caught in high numbers. In short, exemptions to a complete shark finning ban are unworkable from an enforcement perspective.

Please contact your senators to urge support for the Shark Conservation Act with no exemptions to the fins-attached regulation. If you live in Virginia or North Carolina, it is especially important that you call your senators to voice your concerns and your opposition to cutting off shark’s fins at sea.

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