U.S. Proposal Could Weaken Shark Conservation Laws

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The United States' reputation as a world leader in shark conservation could be tarnished if a rule proposed by the Obama administration moves forward without changes.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, or NOAA, is considering regulations to implement the Shark Conservation Act of 2010 that have the potential to overturn shark protections passed in 10 states and territories.

The federal legislation closed loopholes in the previous U.S. shark finning law by requiring that sharks on U.S. vessels or brought into U.S. ports have their fins still attached. To extend additional protections to sharks, some states and territories passed additional measures. In most cases, these laws ban the possession, sale, and trade of shark fins. Shark fins are used as a soup ingredient and can fetch up to $300 per pound.

But now NOAA says that certain state and territorial laws could interfere with the federal law and therefore would be preempted. Implementing the provisions of the shark conservation act, however should not be used to overturn legislation passed by other jurisdictions that provide greater protections for sharks. 

 “The Shark Conservation Act should be implemented as intended, without undermining state conservation measures,” says Jill Hepp, global shark conservation director at The Pew Charitable Trusts.

A dozen shark attack survivors who work to save the ocean's top predator sent a letter to NOAA on June 27 asking the government not to take a big step backward in shark conservation.

“Any rules to implement the federal law that result in overturning more restrictive state or territorial laws could put already stressed shark populations at additional risk. As shark attack survivors, we are uniquely qualified and feel a personal responsibility to speak up for these animals,” they wrote. “Please do not weaken the intent of the Shark Conservation Act of 2010 by preempting and undermining shark fin bans of states and territories.”

In the last month, Pew, Oceana, the Humane Society, and Earthjustice generated over 100,000 individual comments to NOAA, asking the agency not to move forward with a proposed Shark Conservation Act of 2010 implementing rule that potentially could overturn shark protections passed in 10 states and territories.

NOAA also received letters from the U.S. House with 62 signatories and U.S. Senate with 10 signatories, state and territory legislators, state attorney generals, scientists, zoos and aquariums, many non-government organizations, and the Shark Attack Survivors for Conservation. The Association of Pacific Island Legislatures also passed a resolution opposing NOAA's proposal that would take a step backward in shark conservation by preempting stronger state and territorial shark conservation laws.

The agency's comment period closed Wednesday, July 31.