July 26, 2016 — American fishermen are digging in for a fight over a proposal to shut down the vestiges of the U.S. harvest of shark fins, prized for soup and traditional medicine in Asia, and send a message to the rest of the world.
The traditional “finning” of sharks — in which they are pulled out of the water, have their fins sliced off and are discarded into the sea, often still alive but unable to swim — is already illegal in the U.S., but fishermen are still allowed to hunt sharks and have their fins removed during processing on land.
A bill backed by Sen. Cory Booker, a New Jersey Democrat, and others promises to ban the sale and possession of shark fins to ensure U.S. fishermen and seafood dealers no longer participate in the global fin trade. Supporters say the bill would close loopholes left open by measures passed in 2000 and 2010 to protect sharks.
“America can become a global leader by shutting down the domestic market for shark fins,” Booker said.
Jeff Oden, a former North Carolina shark fisherman who left the business about 10 years ago to focus on other species amid mounting regulatory pressure, said the legislation is well intentioned but won’t stop international finning, and could actually increase pressure on sharks.
“Other countries that are less likely to be as sustainable as us will fill our void,” Oden said.
Shaun Gehan, a lawyer who represents shark fishermen, said the inability to sell fins would devastate the shark fishing business, which he described as conservatively managed already. Eleven states already have laws against the sale of shark fins, though shark fin soup can still be found on the menu in Chinese restaurants in many states.