Post Authored By: Teresa Detloff
The Shark Fin Sales Elimination Act (SFSEA) was recently passed by the US Senate on June 8, 2021 and has been returned to the House for future deliberations as part of a broader legislation package.
What is shark finning?
Shark finning, not to be confused with shark fishing, is the cruel, wasteful, and destructive practice whereby sharks are fished from the ocean and their fins are harvested. The rest of the shark, usually still alive, is thrown back into the ocean to drown. The fins are then sold around the world, particularly for use in a dish called shark fin soup. Lack of oversight, accountability, and misinformation about sharks and their behavior in the media perpetuates this harmful practice. Over 100 million sharks are killed globally each year, and the finning trade is largely responsible. Approximately 73 million sharks are killed for their fins each year specifically. The US has been recognized as a hub for transportation of shark fins, and reportedly, 1,400 pounds of shark fins were confiscated in Miami in 2020.
What does the law say about shark finning?
On June 8, 2021, the US Senate passed the Shark Fin Sales Elimination Act (SFSEA) as part of a broader law, the US Innovation and Competition Act. The SFSEA would ultimately prohibit the commercial trade of both shark fins and products containing shark fins. While the US has banned shark finning in US waters, this legislation would ban the removal and sale of shark fins once the fins are brought ashore on the federal level. The law does carve out an exception for shark fins that are lawfully taken under a permit and are 1) destroyed or discarded upon separation; 2) used for noncommercial subsistence in accordance with state or territorial law; 3) used solely for display or research purposes by a museum, college, university, or person under a state or federal permit allowing them to conduct noncommercial scientific research; or 4) retained by the license or permit holder for noncommercial purposes. There is also an exemption for dogfish, and the SFSEA specifically lays out that it is not a violation for any person to possess, transport, offer for sale, sell, or purchase any fresh or frozen raw fin or tail from any smooth or spiny dogfish. The bill also provides that by January 1, 2027, the exemption shall be reviewed by the Secretary of Commerce, who will recommend whether the exemption shall continue to be included.
Why should we care about shark populations?
Sharks are critical to maintaining balance in our oceans. According to a recent study, sharks and rays have declined by 71% globally. Sharks are being killed at a faster rate than they can reproduce. Sharks maintain the ocean’s balance as apex predators, feeding on the sick, dead, and dying. Without sharks, the entire ecosystem will collapse. Healthy oceans also support life on earth, as 70% of Earth’s surface is covered by water. More than 50% of the world’s oxygen is produced by the ocean. The ocean also stores 50 times more carbon dioxide than earth’s atmosphere.
While the statistics are grim, many countries have taken action to reduce and/or criminalize shark finning. Further, other alternatives to the shark trade have proliferated as a way to provide income to those who depend on shark finning. Shark fins sell for up to $500.00 per pound, which is why finning is such a lucrative business. Supporting shark ecotourism is one way to protect sharks by giving communities who engage in shark finning a more sustainable and profitable industry, all while protecting the world’s shark populations. For example, with ecotourism, it is estimated that a live hammerhead shark can generate income of $1.6 million over its lifetime.  Positive changes are already taking shape, and hopefully, will continue with the SFSEA deliberations.
About the Author:
Teresa Detloff practices law in Chicago, Illinois and is a graduate of Loyola University Chicago School of Law, where she served as a lead article editor for the law journal. She is also a member of the United Nations Association Chicago Chapter.