The Giant Problem of Shark Finning Just Became a Little Smaller

A major hub for shark fin imports and exports in the United States bans the trade.

(Photo: Suzi Eszterhas/Getty Images)

Jun 22, 2015· 1 MIN READ
Taylor Hill is an associate editor at TakePart covering environment and wildlife.

Texas took a big bite out of the shark fin trade in the United States when Gov. Greg Abbott signed a bill on Saturday prohibiting the sale of the fins statewide.

In recent years, environmental group Oceana said, the state has become a hot spot for the shark fin trade, which has more than doubled in Texas since 2010.

So, Why Should You Care? Demand for shark fins, driven largely by Chinese consumers, has devastated shark populations around the world. Scientists estimate some species have declined more than 90 percent. Finning is federally banned in U.S. waters, but most states allow the import and export of the product. Texas is the 10th state to ban shark fin sales in response to the growing conservation crisis created by the trade.

Shark finning involves fishers removing the fins from sharks and throwing the animal back into the water to die.

While there is some demand for shark fins in the U.S., most are shipped to China, where a bowl of the traditional soup created from the fins can sell for around $100.

The soup trend may be waning in China: Consumption is down from a 2011 peak, when 22 million pounds of shark fin were imported to Hong Kong alone. But the market continues to have a devastating impact. A quarter of shark species are threatened with extinction, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

“Each state that passes a shark fin trade ban brings us closer to reversing the global trend of declining shark populations,” said Jacqueline Savitz of Oceana in a statement.

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“People are outraged when they hear about elephants or rhinos killed by poachers for their tusks or horns, but shark finners are doing the same thing, often with endangered or threatened sharks,” Savitz said.

Earlier this year, more than 200,000 dried shark fins—worth about $1.5 million—were seized in Ecuador, bound for China.

State Sen. Eddie Lucio III, a Democrat, authored the shark fin legislation, which passed both houses of the Texas legislature earlier in the year.

“Shark finning is not only an inhumane and illegal act, but it also puts the sustainability of our marine ecosystem at stake. This law will prevent profiting from this heinous practice,” Lucio said in a release.

Other states that have banned shark fin sales include California, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Massachusetts, Maryland, New York, Oregon, and Washington.

The Texas ban eliminates a major hub for the shark fin trade in the U.S., said Humane Society International wildlife program manager Iris Ho, but more needs to be done to reduce demand.

“While both the Hong Kong authorities and China’s central government have prohibited serving shark fins at official functions, there is still work to do,” Ho said in an email. She would like more businesses, hotels, and the transportation industry in Asia to remove shark fin soup from their menus and for stronger regulations to be created and enforced in shark fishing hot spots.

“Not every top shark-catching country has prohibited shark finning, leaving gaping loopholes for finning activity to go undetected,” Ho said.