Shark Finning is Banned in the US; Banning Trade in Fins May Be Next

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shark-fin-soupDiscovery Channel's annual "Shark Week" event starts this Sunday, but if you are a wealthy elite who likes Asian delicacies, you have probably thought about sharks more recently than last summer, like when you had 'shark fin' soup.

Soup is good food, there is just one problem with the shark fin kind; too often to get the fin, they catch a shark, cut it off, and then throw it back, where it will take a few days to die. Why? The shark fin itself has no culinary value, it just takes in the flavor of the broth, so this soup is truly just to show off how wealthy you are. About 2,000 years ago, it was served by Chinese nobility because they were the only ones who could force peasants to risk their lives for something so ridiculous. But everyone wants to feel like they are part of the glitterati now, and estimates are that up to 300 million people will eat the stuff, sometimes even in low-cost buffets, because we are a lot of better at fishing these days.

It's illegal to engage in sharkfinning in the United States but not illegal to buy fins. A new bill would change that. The bipartisan group (1) wants to reduce sharkfinning by banning imports. Estimates are that 8,000 tons per year are shipped to restaurants and five of the 11 countries that export shark fins to the U.S. have no ban on sharkfinning. (2) America is not the largest market for these, but America is a huge market for everything except soccer. When Presidents Reagan and then again George W. Bush cracked down on illegal logging, illegal logging worldwide plummeted. So by banning shark fins, they will reduce demand.

Those shrieks you will hear, if it happens, are not just from food elites; they will also be from the supplements industry and the politicians who represent people who believe in anti-science nonsense, like that supplements are good but vaccines and GMOs and energy are not. Those people believe things like that sharks have "otherworldly" power (hey, they believe the same thing about breast milk) and can prevent cancer if you grind up their cartilage (3) so it's no surprise they think a shark fin is somehow more prestigious than tofu.

“Shark finning, which leaves these animals to die a slow and painful death at the bottom of the ocean, is a cruel practice that needs to be stopped. When the United States leads, others follow. We should set an example by eliminating the shark fin trade rather than providing a market to incentivize this illicit activity,” said U.S. Representative Ed Royce (R-Calif.), Chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee.

“While the inhumane practice of shark finning is illegal in U.S. waters, it’s time for the U.S. to ban the importation and exportation of shark fins completely,” said Representative Farenthold (R-TX).

There could be a problem in this. If a shark is harvested legally, not sharkfinning, will the new law still allow the fin to be used? If not, they are going to be throwing fins away, which is still the kind of waste we don't want. Generally, I am not a fan of more laws but if the only people impacted will be those who spend $100 for a bowl of illegal fancy chicken broth or GNC shoppers, this might be a good thing. Anything to get politicians to stop sitting on the floor for no reason.

Is there any good reason to allow this importation to continue without any standard, other than that fewer laws are better? I'm willing to listen to a convincing argument.


(1) Led by Sens. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) and Cory Booker (D-NJ), and Reps. Gregorio Kilili Camacho Sablan (I-MP) and Ed Royce (R-CA).

(2) Though good luck figuring out how much of that is for the U.S. Oceana says that in 2007, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) reported countries exporting 1,012 tons of shark fins to us, but the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) says we only imported 28.8 metric tons.

(3) Because of an early 1990s book (William Lane's "Shark's don't get cancer") that was the shark equivalent of what "Grain Brain" was about wheat and whatever is being written about sugar right now. They also believe things like that BPA can be an "endocrine disruptor," whatever that means. Reading this article changed your hormones, just so you know, as did the coffee I drank writing it. Generally, you should ignore everything anti-science hippies believe.

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