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Pew Trust: Obama Administration proposes a step backward in shark conservation

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is proposing a rule to implement the Shark Conservation Act of 2010 that, if approved as is, has the potential to overturn the shark protections passed by California, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Oregon, Washington, American Samoa, Guam, and the Northern Mariana Islands, according to researchers at the Pew Charitable Trusts.


Signed by President Barack Obama in January 2011, the Shark Conservation Act closed loopholes in the United States’ previous shark finning prohibition law by requiring that sharks be landed at port with their fins naturally attached to their bodies.


In an effort to further protect sharks, some states and territories passed additional laws. Hawai’i was the first state to make the sale, trade, and possession of shark fins a criminal offense.


Since 2010, 10 states and territories (Hawai’i, California, Washington, Oregon, Illinois, Delaware, Maryland, Guam, Northern Mariana Islands, and American Samoa) have implemented shark fin trade bans. In addition to the trade bans, American Samoa, Guam, and Northern Mariana Islands banned catch and possession of sharks in territorial waters.


The shark fin trade bans were implemented after considerable public feedback in the respective states and territories. The laws reflect the unique concerns and needs of each respective state or territory and their citizens. For example, there are various exemptions in many of the laws for research, indigenous cultural practices (Guam and Northern Mariana Islands), certain species (Oregon, Delaware, and Maryland), or in the case of California, for the licensed commercial and recreational shark fishery.


NOAA issued proposed implementing regulations for the Shark Conservation Act in May, two-and-a-half years after it passed.


The proposed implementing regulations prohibit the removal of shark fins at sea; the possession, transfer, and landing of shark fins that are not naturally attached to the corresponding carcass; and the landing of shark carcasses without the corresponding fins naturally attached.


The proposed regulations also contain language that could undermine the state and territory laws. Specifically, the Agency is claiming that the state and territory laws may interfere with achievement of the Magnuson-Stevens Act’s (MSA) purposes and objectives and therefore are preempted by the MSA.


Although they are more restrictive than the federal law, the state shark fin bans can be complementary to the Shark Conservation Act. 


The shark fin trade bans do not interfere with fishing in federal waters; they regulate fin trade in the state or territory.


Undermining the 10 shark fin trade bans would be a considerable setback for global shark conservation.


Tell NOAA not to include text in the Shark Conservation Act implementing regulations that undermine the state and territory shark laws.


The deadline for comments on the proposed rule is expected to be July 8.


People can comment using The Pew Charitable Trusts website at


For information on sending a formal comment letter directly to NOAA, writing a letter to your local newspaper, contacting your local newspaper to write a story, contact Angelo Villagomez at


Source: The Pew Charitable Trusts