Hooray for California, but there’s still much work to be done to save sharks

 

Photo credit: Jessica King, Marine Photobank

Earlier today,  the California legislature voted to approve AB 376,  the excitingly titled “act to add section 2021 to the Fish and Game Code,  relating to sharks”. The ocean conservation community is happy,  and we should be. The bill and its backing from Hollywood stars have generated substantial media coverage of the plight of sharks,  and,  if signed into law by the Governor and properly enforced,  it could well save a lot of sharks. However,  fin bans aren’t the perfect solution to the shark conservation crisis,  and we still have a lot of work to do to protect sharks and closely related species around the world.

Based on similar laws passed in Hawaii and Washington,  AB 376 will make it illegal “for any person to possess,  sell,  offer for sale,  trade,  or distribute a shark fin” in the state of California. In other words, it aims to reduce the demand for shark fin soup by making it illegal to have fins.

AB 376 is not a ban on “finning” (defined as cutting off a shark’s fins and dumping the rest of the animal overboard- if the shark is still alive at this point it will  bleed to death or drown).  Although a few exceptions in regulations exist and there may be more associated with this law (stay tuned, I will look into the exceptions to AB 376 and write a follow-up post),  shark finning at sea has been illegal in U.S. Atlantic waters since 1993 and nationally since 2002. Laws like AB 376 make it illegal for people to possess the shark fins themselves,  not for fishermen elsewhere to acquire them in the first place. It is hoped that reduced demand will result in a reduction in supply. While it’s true that California has one of the largest markets for shark fins outside of Asia,  that’s a little bit like saying that Mike “Coach K” Krzyzkewski is the tallest person in this photograph other than shark conservation advocate Yao Ming.

Image from GoDuke.com

Additionally,  while some of the fins that AB 376 bans entered the market through finning at sea in other countries, others entered the market after U.S. fishermen landed the sharks with fins naturally attached (possibly as part of a quota),  which is completely legal in the U.S. and much better from a management perspective. * Blanket bans on possessing all fins such as AB 376 do not distinguish between fins that entered the market through morally-objectionable and unsustainable finning at sea and fins that entered the market through the better practice of fully utilizing the shark under science-based quotas. Instead of encouraging best  practices,  fin bans may,  in some cases,  hinder legal and sustainable business by well regulated fishermen. While some conservationists and animal welfare advocates believe that consuming shark fin soup is morally wrong regardless of where the fins came from,  many mainstream environmental groups have been advocating for sustainable fishing practices.

For many species of sharks,  the market for fins is a major driver of population declines,  and reducing demand for fins will undeniably help these animals. For many other species of sharks,  as well as equally threatened skates and rays,  the major threats are lack of science-based quotas despite high demand for meat or oil, and bycatch. Fin bans do nothing to stop these problems.  Still others need their critical habitats protected from coastal development and research into their life history.  Marine protected areas or bans on fishing during breeding aggregations are critical for the recovery of other species. In short, even if the market for shark fin soup disappeared overnight worldwide (which laws like AB 376 would not accomplish), sharks would still need a lot of help.

I believe that (within reason),  anything that reduces the number of sharks killed unsustainably and wastefully is a good thing,  and we should celebrate the vote on AB 376. However,  we should also endeavor to encourage more sustainable fishing practices such as landing sharks with their fins naturally attached,  and we should greatly expand the focus of the conservation movement to include the many other threats facing sharks. Congratulations to everyone who helped get this important piece of legislation passed. Now let’s get back to work!


* While landing sharks with fins naturally attached still results in a dead shark,  it is much easier for inspectors to ensure that finning did not take place and to determine how many sharks of each species have been landed when they can examine a carcass with the fins attached  instead of a pile of fins.

  1. David, I was at the Taj Mahal in Atlantic City, NJ this weekend and saw that one of the restaurants there, Dynasty, had shark fin soup on their menu. Really upset by that! Hopefully NJ will follow in California’s footsteps and ban fins here as well!

  2. The sustainability argument is a Catch 22 for shark fishermen. The law could be written to allow the sustainable fishing of sharks, but as of now, there are no sustainable shark fisheries.

  3. BILL NUMBER: AB 853 AMENDED
    BILL TEXT

    AMENDED IN SENATE SEPTEMBER 2, 2011
    AMENDED IN SENATE AUGUST 16, 2011
    AMENDED IN SENATE JULY 13, 2011
    AMENDED IN SENATE JUNE 20, 2011

    INTRODUCED BY Assembly Member
    Blumenfield Members Fong and
    Huffman
    ( Coauthors:
    Assembly Members Beall,
    Cook, and
    Garrick )

    FEBRUARY 17, 2011

    An act to amend Sections 41344.4, 46300, 46300.6,
    46300.7, 51745.6, 51747, and 51747.3 of, and to add Sections 51745.2
    and 51747.1 to, the Education Code, relating to schools.
    An act to add Section 2021.5 to the Fish and Game Code, relating
    to sharks.

    LEGISLATIVE COUNSEL’S DIGEST

    AB 853, as amended, Blumenfield Fong
    . Schools. Sharks.
    Existing law makes it unlawful to possess any bird, mammal, fish,
    reptile, or amphibian, or parts thereof, taken in violation of any of
    the provisions of the Fish and Game Code, or of any regulation made
    under it.
    This bill would create exemptions from a shark fin prohibition
    proposed by AB 376. The bill would require the Ocean Protection
    Council to submit an annual report to the Legislature that lists any
    shark species that have been independently certified to meet
    internationally accepted standards for sustainable seafood, as
    provided. The provisions of the bill would become operative only if
    AB 376 is enacted and takes effect on or before January 1, 2012.

    Existing law establishes the public elementary and secondary
    school system in this state, and further establishes a funding system
    pursuant to which the state apportions funds to local educational
    agencies based on, among other factors, the average daily attendance
    of pupils at the schools operated by those agencies. Numerous
    statutes and regulations govern the calculation and reporting of
    average daily attendance.
    This bill, commencing with the 2011-12 school year, would
    authorize, for purposes of computing average daily attendance, the
    inclusion of pupils under the supervision and control of a
    certificated employee of the school district or county office of
    education who is delivering synchronous, online instruction, as
    defined, provided that this instruction meets specified criteria. The
    bill would require, if a school district or county office of
    education elects to offer synchronous, online instruction, that the
    school district or county office of education ensure that all pupils
    who choose to enroll in an online course have access to the computer
    hardware or software necessary for the pupil to participate in the
    course.
    Existing law authorizes the governing board of a school district
    or a county office of education to offer independent study to meet
    the educational needs of pupils in accordance with certain
    requirements. Existing law requires, in computing the average daily
    attendance of a school district, that there be included the
    attendance of pupils participating in independent study for 5 or more
    consecutive schooldays. Existing law prohibits a school district or
    county office of education from receiving apportionments for
    independent study unless it has adopted and implemented certain
    policies.
    The bill, commencing with the 2011-12 school year, would authorize
    the governing board of a school district or a county office of
    education to offer, as independent study, asynchronous, online
    instruction, as defined in accordance with specified criteria. The
    bill would require that if a school district or county office of
    education elects to offer asynchronous, online instruction pursuant
    to these provisions, that the school district or county office of
    education ensure that all pupils who choose to enroll in an
    asynchronous, online course have access to the computer hardware or
    software necessary for the pupil to participate in the course.

    The bill would also modify the requirements relating to
    apportionments for independent study, by requiring that there be, at
    a minimum, biweekly contact between teachers and pupils, and basing a
    pupil’s continued participation in independent study on that pupil
    making satisfactory educational progress, as defined.

    Existing law requires that local educational agencies and county
    boards of education be subject to financial and compliance audits, as
    specified. Existing law authorizes the county superintendent of
    schools to waive the requirement that a local educational agency
    repay an apportionment based on an audit exception if specified
    criteria are met.
    This bill would authorize the Superintendent of Public Instruction
    to waive the requirement that a county board of education repay an
    apportionment based on an audit exception if specified criteria are
    met. The bill also, for both local educational agencies and county
    boards of education, would authorize the waiver of certain audit
    exceptions relating to independent study, provided that these
    exceptions are deemed to be minor and inadvertent.

    The bill also would make technical, conforming, and clarifying
    changes.
    Vote: majority. Appropriation: no. Fiscal committee: yes.
    State-mandated local program: no.

    THE PEOPLE OF THE STATE OF CALIFORNIA DO ENACT AS FOLLOWS:

    SECTION 1. Section 2021.5 is added to the
    Fish and Game Code , to read:
    2021.5. (a) Notwithstanding Section 2021, all of the following
    provisions apply:
    (1) Any person who holds a license or permit issued by the
    department to take or land sharks for recreational or commercial
    purposes may possess, including for purposes of consumption or
    taxidermy, or may donate to a person licensed or permitted pursuant
    to Section 1002, a shark fin or fins consistent with that license or
    permit.
    (2) Before July 1, 2013, any person may possess, sell, offer for
    sale, trade, or distribute a shark fin possessed by that person, as
    of January 1, 2012.
    (3) Nothing in Section 2021 prohibits the sale or possession of a
    shark carcass, skin, or fin for taxidermy purposes pursuant to
    Section 3087.
    (b) (1) The Ocean Protection Council shall submit an annual report
    to the Legislature that lists any shark species that have been
    independently certified to meet internationally accepted standards
    for sustainable seafood, as defined in Section 35550 of the Public
    Resources Code, and adopted by the Ocean Protection Council pursuant
    to Section 35617 of the Public Resources Code, including chain of
    custody standards.
    (2) A report to be submitted pursuant to paragraph (1) shall be
    submitted in compliance with Section 9795 of the Government Code.

    SEC. 2. This act shall become operative only if
    Assembly Bill 376 of the 2011-12 Regular Session is enacted and takes
    effect on or before January 1, 2012. All matter omitted in
    this version of the bill appears in the bill as amended in the
    Senate, August 16, 2011. (JR11)

  4. I am glad this has been passed,but what gives people right to do what they want with any sea creature especially shark fin soup is over rated not that I would ever eat it,but its morally wrong and it seems that if it is endangered or awkward or unusual then someone will catch it and cut bits off and if people are willing or stupid to pay extroadinary prices then it becomes popular.Leave all types of Whales and Sharks alone,there are so many things that are eaten by orientals perhaps to many strange and revolting things,also there should be more protection for all these creatures of the sea…with heavy sentences not community work slap on the hands stupid justice,I can see in the future a war over this to keep certain people away from poaching or killing unnecessary animals and sharks but as was said theres a long way to go but dont wait to long because sharks are still being killed for there fins,whole shark or not such a waste for greed and no thought for the sharks…

  5. Hope everyone in the world does this. From what I understand, when sharks fins are cut off, they cant keep themselves right-side up. Is that correct? Also, I would +1 (google+) this page if I could…might wanna ad that feature