Does the Shark Conservation Act Even Care About Sharks?
After a long battle to receive the protections they deserve, sharks are still being hunted to near extinction for their fins. The worldwide finning of sharks has devastated the shark population. As many as 73 million sharks are killed every year, up to 200,000 per day, usually just for their fins. Shark fins are worth more than shark meat, so the fins are often cut off and the rest of the shark’s body is carelessly tossed back into the ocean.
And it isn’t just sharks that are affected by the hunting; sharks are so important for keeping the balance in the marine ecosystem, particularly with maintaining fish populations and coral reef health. Many sharks are now threatened, endangered or close to extinction because of this awful fishing practice.
Ten states and territories, including Oregon, Maryland, California, Hawaii and Guam, have taken shark protection into their own hands and implemented shark fin trade bans. These laws are an effort to go even further than federal laws to protect sharks, by making it illegal to sell, trade or possess shark fins.
But the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association (NOAA) wants to finally implement the federal Shark Conservation Act, signed by President Obama in early 2011, and is proposing to do so in a way that will undermine these existing, more stringent, protections. Implementing the Shark Conservation Act will actually weaken protections for sharks. NOAA claims that the state and territory laws get in the way of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Reauthorization Act‘s purposes and objectives and should therefore be preempted by the federal law.
But the states’ shark fin trade bans do not interfere with fishing in federal waters, they only regulate fin trade in the state or territory where the law is in effect. The state bans could be complementary to the Shark Conservation Act and should work in tandem. Instead, NOAA is trying to use the Shark Conservation Act of 2010 to weaken the protections that states have already put in place for sharks.
Sometimes, federal laws aren’t as protective as state laws. Take Hawaii for example. Hawaii was the first state to make the sale, trade, and possession of shark fins a criminal offense. The Hawaiian law does not interfere with fishing in federal waters; it regulates possession, sale, and trade within the state. Fishermen can still bring a shark on land to sell if it is legally caught in federal waters, just not in Hawaii.
If the state laws are overturned, Hawaii will be forced to open up the waters to shark trade. If the state laws are not overturned, federal shark fishing will be improved by closing loopholes in the current finning law by requiring that fins are naturally attached when sharks are brought ashore. However, those sharks will not be allowed to be landed or traded in Hawaii, or other states with shark protection laws.
Tell the NOAA not to include text in the Shark Conservation Act implementing regulations that undermine existing state and territory shark laws. The deadline for comments on the proposed rule is expected to be July 8. Take action now by signing the petition.
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