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Study shows banning shark fins in U.S. won’t help save sharks

A new study in the scientific journal Marine Policy shows that banning the sale of shark fins in the United States can actually harm ongoing shark conservation efforts.

Study authors Dr. David Shiffman of Simon Fraser University’s Earth2Ocean research group and Dr. Robert Hueter from the Center for Shark Research at Mote Marine Laboratory say that the proposed Shark Fin Sales Elimination Act of 2017, a bill currently in committee in U.S. Congress, is a misguided and ineffective approach to protecting sharks.

Here is the abstract and citation:

The proposed Act states that “no person shall possess, transport, offer for sale, sell, or purchase shark fins or products containing shark fins,” with a few very specific exceptions. If passed, the Act would make it illegal for U.S. fishers and businesses to sell or purchase shark fins.

The Act is not focused on shark “finning,” which has been illegal in U.S. waters since the 1990s. Finning is the inhumane, wasteful practice of removing a shark’s fins at sea and tossing the animal back to die. U.S. shark fisheries are managed carefully, based on scientific data, and fishers are permitted to harvest non-depleted shark species, transport the whole animal back to shore and detach fins afterward — which is NOT finning. However, in some other parts of the world, finning contributes to the global fin trade and sharks are less sustainably managed.

In their new paper, Shiffman and Hueter review scientific and economic data to understand the possible implications of a U.S. ban on fin trade, including fins legally harvested in U.S. fisheries. Their key findings include:

Insignificant global impact of U.S. fin-trade ban

“…banning the sale of shark fins in the United States would likely not result in a significant direct reduction in global shark mortality, because the United States exports approximately one percent of all the shark fins traded globally, and imports an even smaller percentage of the global fin trade,” paper authors note.

U.S. shark fishing is well regulated. Preventing sale of U.S. caught fins opens more market share for less sustainable fisheries that may practice finning. “Of 16 global shark fisheries identified as biologically sustainable and well managed, 9 involve United States shark fishermen, accounting for 76.3% of total landings from these 16 fisheries,” the authors note.

U.S. ban could cause waste without reducing shark mortality. “Moreover, banning the sale of shark fins would not make it illegal to continue catch and kill sharks in the United States. It would only regulate how the parts of dead sharks can be used. Forcing fishermen to discard fins from sharks caught in sustainably managed fisheries would contribute to wastefulness in fisheries and undermine the ‘full use’ doctrine that is a component of the UN FAO International Plan of Action for Sharks, without reducing shark mortality.”

 

Costs to law-abiding U.S. fishers

“The proposed fin ban would therefore eliminate about 23% of the ex-vessel value of legally caught sharks, causing economic harm to rule-following fishermen and undermining decades of progress towards sustainable shark fisheries management in the United States.”

Instead of ban, sustainable harvest sets more realistic example for other nations: “A ban on the trade of shark parts from a sustainable fishery would not only eliminate a model of successful management from the global marketplace, but would also remove an important incentive for other nations to adopt that model. A nationwide ban on buying or selling fins would tell international trading partners that the United States will not support their shark conservation efforts regardless of future improvements to their fisheries sustainability.”

If a fin ban is not a viable solution, what can be done to help sharks?

Dr. Robert Hueter at Mote, who has more than 40 years’ experience in shark science and conservation, offers a five-point approach designed to benefit shark populations while strengthening the U.S. economy:

Increase the penalties for shark finning, which the Florida state legislature has recently done.

Stop the import of shark products from countries that don’t practice sustainable shark fishing, especially those that still permit finning.  Some authority to do this already exists, and there are at least two efforts underway to legislate further authority on Capitol Hill.

Incentivize our domestic industry to process American-harvested fins here within the U.S., rather than ship them to Hong Kong for processing (as happens now), thereby improving traceability of legal fins and supplying the demand of our own Asian cultures here in the U.S. with products “made in America.”

Continue to monitor our shark populations, conduct regular stock assessments and support strict measures for sustainability.

Educate the public about the real problems sharks face and empower people to do the right things in supporting shark conservation.

In addition, both authors of the Marine Policy paper suggest focusing more attention on the overall shark meat trade, which is worth $550 million worldwide and has been growing, compared with the fin trade alone, which is worth $330 million worldwide and has been declining.

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