The US is set to ban the sale of shark fins in a bid to tackle shark declines. However, two scientists are claiming that this won’t have the desired effect, and that really the US should be setting an example of sustainable shark fishing instead.
Democratic Senator Corey Booker of New Jersey introduced a bill this year to stop people in the US from possessing and selling shark fins. It has been supported by many scientists and conservation groups like Oceana.
Shark fins are harvested for use in shark fin soup, a traditional Chinese delicacy. They are normally collected via a process called “finning”.
According to the new Shark Fin Trade Elimination Act: “Shark finning is the cruel practice in which the fins of a shark are cut off on board a fishing vessel at sea. The remainder of the animal is then thrown back into the water to drown, starve, or die a slow death.”
Finning is incredibly unsustainable, using only a small part of a shark’s total body mass. It has technically been banned in the US since the 1990s, although removing the fins for sale during processing on land is all above board.
Sharks are endangered around the world. They are top predators, meaning that their loss could have a dramatic impact on the health of our seas.
Banning the shark trade in the US sounds like the perfect solution, but researchers David Shiffman and Robert Hueter beg to differ, arguing their case in the journal Marine Policy.
They point out that if US fisheries stopped catching sharks, other fisheries would simply take their place, so fewer sharks wouldn’t actually be killed. Many shark fisheries worldwide are poorly regulated, and Shiffman and Hueter think that the US should continue fishing sharks sustainably, setting an example to the rest of the world.
However, Lora Snyder, a campaign director for Oceana, argued: "Yes, we are better, but just because we are better doesn't mean we are good," Snyder said. "There are other threats facing sharks, but this is a very important step in the right direction."
The researchers worry that the ban will contribute to the misconception that sharks are only killed for their fins, when really they are killed for meat, used in pharmaceuticals, and as bycatch too. They also worry that the ban would cause fishermen to target other fish species instead.
“Instead of a domestic ban on the shark fin trade, the United States Congress should support more effective policies that encourage progress towards making all shark fisheries sustainable in the United States and around the world,” they wrote.