Important shark conservation measure takes a step forward in the USA

The USA has taken a large step towards a making a “fins-attached” policy into law, prohibiting all removal of shark fins at sea.

Press Release Date: December 17, 2013

Location: Madrid


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This policy sets an example for the European Union which has the world’s most lenient shark finning ban.

Oceana, the international marine conservation organisation, is pleased that the U.S. made a “fins-attached” policy one step closer to reality late yesterday by passing the Shark Conservation Act of 2008 in the U.S. House of Representatives. This Act includes a requirement for sharks to be landed in port with their fins naturally attached to the body, thereby closing a major loophole in the country’s shark finning prohibition. The current prohibition allows fins and carcasses to be landed separately and in a specific ratio. This is the same practice put in place in the European Union, but has been called complicated and ineffective by international scientists.

“I´m happy to see the United States take this large step towards establishing a fins-attached policy. This is a true shark finning ban,” said Rebecca Greenberg, marine scientist with Oceana in Europe. “Scientists and conservation officials have been promoting this strategy for years as the most straightforward way to end shark finning. It also helps with enforcement of finning prohibitions, and allows for better scientific data collection which is crucial to assessing shark stocks and safeguarding their future,” Greenberg continued.

Shark finning is a cruel and wasteful practice in which a shark’s fins are sliced off and the dead or dying carcass is thrown back into the sea. This practice is driven around the world by the demand for shark fins and threatens already vulnerable shark populations. Since sharks are extremely slow growing and produce few young, their populations can take decades to recover from overfishing and destructive fisheries practises. Sharks are top predators and removing large sharks from the oceans (many of those valued most for their fins) can cause negative and irreversible changes throughout the marine ecosystem. Not allowing any fins to be removed at sea will result in stronger protections for these vulnerable species.

The bill would also allow the U.S. to take actions against countries that do not have shark finning restrictions that are at least as strenuous as those in the U.S. This includes the European Union, which currently employs the world’s most lenient shark finning ban. If enacted into law, the U.S. bill could prohibit shark products from the EU, among other actions.

According to Xavier Pastor, Executive Director of Oceana in Europe, “This bill has the potential to impact global shark product trade. But also, the USA is setting a solid example for how the European Union and other countries can improve their own finning bans.” Oceana has been urging the European Commission to consider a “fins attached” policy for years, and highlights the timeliness of this bill for the EU, as it advances with the adoption of a European Plan of Action for Sharks. “The U.S. House approval shows that this important policy is feasible and straightforward. Equally sound shark conservation measures are urgently needed in Europe,” Pastor continued.

The key vote in the House of Representatives follows similar action taken last month by the U.S. National Marine Fisheries Service, which now mandates that U.S.-federally permitted shark fisheries in the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico land sharks with their fins naturally attached.  This U.S. Shark Conservation Act of 2008 would require the same standard be applied in all waters of that country. The bill must now go to the Senate for approval before becoming law.