New Law Limits Florida Shark Fin Trade – But Avoids Total Ban

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The carcass of a finned shark, thrown overboard and left to die (Photo: Shutterstock)

The Governor of Florida has signed into law a bill prohibiting the import, export and sale of shark fins in Florida. However, it will remain legal in Florida to trade in fins harvested from sharks by federally approved and licensed businesses.

The new legislation, which takes effect from 1 October, is named the ‘Kristin Jacobs Ocean Conservation Act’, in honour of the late senator Kristin Jacobs, who originally sponsored the bill but died of cancer earlier this year.

Like many other nations, the US has outlawed the practice of shark-finning, in which fins are removed from live sharks with the rest of the animal disposed of – usually still alive – at sea. Although 19 endangered species of shark are off-limits to US fishers, many species have no such protection and can be legally caught and sold on the open market, with fins sold mainly to support the Asian restaurant trade, where shark-fin soup remains a sought-after menu item. 

As a result, fins can be cut from these sharks and sold throughout much of the US, with the exception of 12 states which have banned the trade in shark fins entirely. 

Such unrestricted trade in shark fins gives rise to a loophole whereby fins aquired either illegally, or from nations that do not ban shark-finning, are easily distributed throughout the US – and, indeed, most of the world. Identifying which fins come from legally-caught sharks or which come from endangered species is virtually impossible without expert assessment or DNA sampling.

This difficulty in tracking illegally imported fins, coupled with the difference in legislation between locations, has created a vast international black market for shark fins. Early in September, a multi-agency law enforcement operation in the US brought down a shark fin smuggling syndicate which is thought to have been in operation between the US, Mexico and Hong Kong, for at least ten years.

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The international black market for shark fins is a billion dollar operation (Photo: Shutterstock)

The loophole is by no means confined to the United States, with similar laws in the European Union under attack by campaigners. A recent petition sponsored by the UK’s Shark Guardian called for citizens to take advantage of the UK’s imminent departure from the EU to put pressure on the UK government to end the currently legal trade in shark fins.

The exceptions to the ban on trading shark fins in Florida, as stipulated by the new bill, include:

  • The sale of shark fins by any commercial fisherman who harvested sharks from a vessel holding a valid federal shark fishing permit on January 1, 2020
  • The export and sale of shark fins by any wholesale dealer holding a valid federal Atlantic shark dealer permit on January 1, 2020
  • The export and sale of domestically sourced shark fins by any shark fin processor that obtains fins from a wholesale dealer holding a valid federal Atlantic shark dealer permit on January 1, 2020.

The legislation requires that the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission (FWC) ‘evaluate the potential economic impact to the commercial shark fishing industry associated with prohibition of the import, export, and sale of shark fins in Florida,’ and submit its findings to the Senate by 31 December 2021, warning that a total ban on the trade in shark fins in Florida may be imposed upon receipt of the FWC’s report.

Shark advocates across America, however, are saying it’s not enough and are calling for further action, with numerous campaigns running to put pressure on the US Senate to pass the Shark Fin Sales Elimination Act, which would ban the trade in all shark fins at the federal level. Should the bill be passed, the US would join Canada as only the second G20 nation to have enacted such a ban.

‘The bill that Governor DeSantis just signed continues to allow Florida shark fishermen and Florida shark dealers to sell and export fins,’ said Whitney Webber, campaign director for conservation charity Oceana. ‘It’s now more clear than ever that state shark fin bans, while a step in the right direction, are simply not enough in the fight to end the trade in shark fins as those in the fin trade continue to exploit this patchwork of laws.’

‘The discovery of a transnational drug and shark fin trafficking ring, where the legal shark fin trade in Florida was used to disguise an illicit shark fin business in California … underscores that a nationwide shark fin ban is the only way to ensure the United States is no longer participating in the global shark fin trade,’ said Webber. ‘That’s why we’re calling on the US Senate to pass the Shark Fin Sales Elimination Act, which passed the US House of Representatives on a strongly bipartisan vote nearly a year ago. We need a fin ban now.’


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