Shark fin bans: A storify of this week’s twitter discussion

Earlier this week, I asked my twitter followers what they thought about shark fin bans, which prompted a long and stimulating discussion. What follows is my first attempt at “Storify”, shared in the hopes that the discussion can continue here.

As I’ve said before, I’m not a big supporter of shark fin bans because they don’t allow for sustainable, well-managed fisheries to supply the market. Additionally, they promote the common (and false) belief that shark fin soup is the only major problem facing sharks, and don’t address many of the other important issues associated with shark conservation.

Instead, I favor a comprehensive approach to shark management, including requiring that sharks be landed with fins attached (i.e. a ban on “finning” but the fins can still be used if the shark is landed whole), special protections for threatened and endangered species, science-based fisheries quotas for species that can sustain fishing, time/area closures or gear restrictions when necessary, and  careful monitoring (including requiring that all fishing nations report the species composition of their catch).

Check out the great discussion if you missed it, and let me know what you think of this important issue in the comments of this post.

A discussion on shark fin bans

I asked my Twitter followers how they felt about "shark fin bans"

Storified by David Shiffman · Tue, May 08 2012 10:37:53

Shark fin bans have become a popular tool of the conservation movement lately, and have been enacted (to date) in the U.S. states of Hawaii, California, Oregon, and Washington. Similar bans are being discussed in Illinois, Maryland, and New York. These laws make it illegal for anyone to buy, sell, or possess shark fins, which are used to make shark fin soup, regardless of where those fins came from (i.e. an overfished and poorly monitored fishery or a well-regulated fishery utilizing best fishing practices). I asked my followers what they thought of these bans. 
Quick, informal poll. Who supports shark fin bans (can’t buy/sell/possess) #shark fins, and why? (1/2)David Shiffman
One alternative is finning bans- sharks must be landed whole with fins attached (careful monitoring), then fins can be sold. (2/2)David Shiffman
Join the discussion- do you support #shark #fin bans, or do you prefer other #shark #conservation measures? Why?David Shiffman
FYI, all participating in #shark #fin ban discussion- I’m not trying to attack, just trying to understand your perspectives.David Shiffman
What followed was a stimulating discussion about the pros and cons of the tools available for shark conservation.
Some of my followers are against shark fishing of any kind.
@WhySharksMatter I don’t think anyone/company shld be permitted to kill/cull any sharks & I don’t think sharks shld be mutilated after deathtizzle
.@Tizzlefish So you propose a complete global moratorium on any #shark fishing and use of #shark products?David Shiffman
@WhySharksMatter of course! It’s like buying/selling/possessing human arms. Shark fins belong on sharks.tizzle
I support #sharkfin ban for enviro reasons & according to @eilperin’s Demon Fish, it don’t taste good no how @WhySharksMatter @ShipLivesGreg Lester
@WhySharksMatter Worth noting that the pointless shark slaughter is driven by sympathetic magic & a tasteless soup ingredient @shiplivesGreg Lester
.@Greg_Lester @eilperin @ShipLives Whether or not non-consumers like the taste is somewhat irrelevant in fisheries management…David Shiffman
Some had objections to fin bans grounded in economics.
@WhySharksMatter outlawing fin sales (even from legally landed sharks) will drive up the price & increase incentives for illegal harvest.Scott Crosson
@WhySharksMatter black markets generally tend to produce unintended consequences.Scott Crosson
@WhySharksMatter Bans outside primary market can’t achieve much & I don’t see a ban in China soon. Fins-on regs + gd enforcement better.Eleanor Partridge
@WhySharksMatter ah, bans are only as effective as education,nothing can be solved by making things illiegal,rarity etc brings higher pricesDan
@NewYorkCreator Actually, higher prices will drive up shark demand, as we’ve seen with bear gall bladders. @whysharksmatterKiko Acero
@WhySharksMatter Fin bans are useless. Like prohibition. Have to change the culture that drives demand, as you noted earlier. @greg_lesterKiko Acero
@WhySharksMatter Bans focus on the prob. but edu. & economics is core. We have many "illegal" activities but that doesn’t stop the use!Andrea & Jason
@WhySharksMatter surely the effort should be towards more public awareness and acceptance in it’s affects. In a supply and Demand ethos.Abbo
Some followers felt that fin bans weren’t the ultimate solution, but could be used in the meantime to help protect sharks until a better comprehensive fisheries management plan was created. 
@WhySharksMatter I’m for shark fin bans immediately to curb the problem but ultimately more stringent fishing lawsSMcCorison
@WhySharksMatter one more note – thoughtful, moderate laws would be nice, but the conversation tends to come after it’s too late for thatSMcCorison
.@WhySharksMatter I agree that responsible comprehensive fisheries management is the ideal end goal, but fin bans may be ‘triage’ stepFriends of Hector
There was some conflating of the shark fin fishery with shark fishing as a whole
100% support it. Fins provide no value & cause irreparable harm to the ecosystem. RT @WhySharksMatter do you support #shark #fin bans? Why?Ryan E. Hoffman
.@NewYorkCreator Is it "fins" that harm the ecosystem? Or removal of #sharks , including for fins?David Shiffman
.@NewYorkCreator But fin bans don’t stop #shark fishing, only the use of fins once #sharks are caught.David Shiffman
.@NewYorkCreator Fin bans do nothing about the major source of demand, and nothing about other sources of #shark mortalityDavid Shiffman
@WhySharksMatter if we want healthy oceans/diversity,sharks are essential,no question,saving things always seems someone elses job though :(Dan
@WhySharksMatter Of course ban! The reasons to ban are endless! #StopSharkFinningAnnie Anderson
.@SharksNeedLove The reasons for #shark conservation are endless, but why fin bans vs. comprehensive fisheries management?David Shiffman
@SharksNeedLove The alternative- responsible comprehensive fisheries managementDavid Shiffman
.@Greg_Lester @shiplives Yes, much #shark fishing demand (not all, possibly not even most) is driven by fin demand. What about the rest?David Shiffman
There are also cultural arguments to consider. Shark fin soup has been consumed in China (in much, much, much smaller quantities than currently) for over 2,000 years, and many in China are concerned about Westerners telling them to give up part of their culture.
@WhySharksMatter Interesting points of view. As a Chinese, living in one of the major hubs for sharkfin trade (Singapore), let me share…Ivan Kwan
@WhySharksMatter my view. IMHO, a shark fin ban IS the simplest solution. But it does nothing to change the mindset of consumers here…Ivan Kwan
@WhySharksMatter A lot of people react to campaigns with the nonsense mindset that these are Westerners imposing their ideals on Asians…Ivan Kwan
@WhySharksMatter It’s still often framed as an East vs. West problem. "Those Westerners decimated their wildlife and now they preach to us!"Ivan Kwan
@WhySharksMatter Mindsets are changing, slowly. Total ban on fins will do nothing to make people understand. I hope the populations hang on.Ivan Kwan
While many object to shark fin soup from a moral perspective, others object from a sustainability perspective and have no problem in principle with fins that come from a well managed and well regulated fishery. 
.@WhySharksMatter it’s a tough question! Problems with many legal shark fisheries but there COULD be sustainable sourcea of #shark #finFriends of Hector
.@WhySharksMatter My preference would be #shark #fin bans written to exempt products that could be traced to legal well-regulated fisheriesFriends of Hector
.@WhySharksMatter Maybe what we need is some sort of ‘Kimberley Process’ for shark fins. Onus on the industry to show source, otherwise ban.Friends of Hector
@WhySharksMatter @drcrosson Then I’m satisfied so long as harvest is sustainable. How do most shark fisheries stand on that criteria?Clifford Hutt
@WhySharksMatter don’t forget law enforcement in debate. Argument for complete ban: difficult to tell whether fins from prohibited species.Scott Crosson
Some felt that the issue shark finning gets people’s attention, attention which can later be channeled to other shark conservation issues. I was skeptical of this argument and complained (not for the first time, or the last) that other important issues weren’t receiving anywhere near the level of attention as finning bans.
@WhySharksMatter fins have been brought to the forefront of shark conservation issues. It’s like a ‘poster issue’ for shark conservation.Charlotte Ford
.@Charlooottee I fear it’s the only issue that many people pay attention to, and it’s far from the only problem facing #sharksDavid Shiffman
@WhySharksMatter exactly. It’s sad that people can’t think of habitat loss and bycatch at other MAJOR, MAJOR shark issues.Charlotte Ford
.@WhySharksMatter @Greg_Lester Fins give an entry point to start bigger discussion. Not sure we had the same opportunity b4 finning issue.Friends of Hector
.@HectorBlueShark @Greg_Lester Sure, but "finning bans" are just as effective at starting this discussion as "fin bans"David Shiffman
@WhySharksMatter shark fin bans a partial solution to a shark fin problem, not shark conservation as a whole. There is no single answer.Greg Lester
.@Greg_Lester Shark conservation is being discussed essentially only in the context of finning bans, though.David Shiffman
@WhySharksMatter DISAGREE #shark conservation ‘being discussed only in context of fin bans’: sanctuaries, multi-media, investigations…FYI.Samantha Whitcraft
.@SamWhitcraft The overwhelming focus I’ve seen has been on "fin bans" and "shark sanctuaries", very little on RFMOs, quotas, bycatch, etc.David Shiffman
.@SamWhitcraft I’ve also seen almost no discussion on critical habitat protections, time/area closures of specific gear types, etcDavid Shiffman
.@SamWhitcraft I’ve seen very little push for observer coverage, for required reporting of species composition of catch, etcDavid Shiffman
.@SamWhitcraft I would argue that shark sanctuaries, while a great tool are not the same thing as critical habitat protections.David Shiffman
.@SamWhitcraft By "critical habitat protections", I mean nursery/aggregation areas rather than a countries’ entire EEZDavid Shiffman
.@SamWhitcraft Even countries that will never ban shark fishing in their whole EEZ can protect critical habitats and make a big differenceDavid Shiffman
.@SamWhitcraft I hear a lot about fin bans and sanctuaries from my various mailing lists, less about quota reductions and species ID rulesDavid Shiffman
.@SamWhitcraft What I’m saying is sanctuaries are great, and so are quota reductions, gear restrictions, requiring species ID, etc.David Shiffman
.@SamWhitcraft We focus a lot on big victories, but a lot of simultaneous small steps (in addition to, not instead of) can also helpDavid Shiffman
.@SamWhitcraft Again, @SharkSavers is great about balance (part of why I like your group so much) , not all groups are.David Shiffman
The passion of #shark conservationists have for #fin bans is inspiring. I just wish some of it was channeled to other #shark issues.David Shiffman
This issue isn’t going away anytime soon, and this fascinating discussion is certain to continue. 
Thanks again to my followers for a great discussion (but sorry for flooding your feed with it). Your passion and knowledge is inspiring.David Shiffman


  1. SAMANTHA WHITCRAFT · May 8, 2012

    WOW. You left out about three other points I made in response to your counterpoints. That’s unfortunate as it only reveals 1/2 the story.

    • WhySharksMatter · May 8, 2012

      Apologies- I actually couldn’t get all of your responses to load in my “Storify” feed. It’s a technical difficulty associated with me being new to this software and not a malicious omission, and it happened with you and a few other participants. You are free to make the same points again here.

      Am I correct that the tweets that didn’t load dealt primarily with definitions of and strategies for shark sanctuaries, rather than shark fin bans? I.e. they were mostly part of a secondary discussion that arose from the main discussion about fin bans?

  2. SAMANTHA WHITCRAFT · May 8, 2012

    …and here is a summary of the issue, outside of the parameters of Twitter:

    • WhySharksMatter · May 8, 2012

      That thorough, well-referenced and well-written fact sheet is an excellent summary of certain key aspects of the shark fin trade- thank you for sharing it. We agree that the current state of affairs is unsustainable and that new conservation and management policies are needed.

      However, nothing in that fact sheet addresses my specific central point about fin bans as a legislative tool. As stated above, “Instead, I favor a comprehensive approach to shark management, including requiring that sharks be landed with fins attached (i.e. a ban on “finning” but the fins can still be used if the shark is landed whole), special protections for threatened and endangered species, science-based fisheries quotas for species that can sustain fishing, time/area closures or gear restrictions when necessary, and careful monitoring (including requiring that all fishing nations report the species composition of their catch).”

      Those goals are very similar to those espoused by fisheries managers and scientists in numerous publications and reports that I’m happy to send your way if you’d like.

  3. Gerald Tan · May 9, 2012

    I think the issue is going to be enforcement. The biggest consumer culprits are in the far east. Sharks are harvested from the open seas, enforcement will be difficult. How do you legislate the open ocean? We already can’t agree on climate; we have recalcitrant nations when it comes to whales hunting…

    Unless you can get Singapore, China, Hong Kong, Taiwan, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia to ban sharks fin (and ENFORCE those bans) it’s not going to make any difference.

    • WhySharksMatter · May 9, 2012

      “How do you legislate the open ocean”

      Through Regional Fisheries Management Organizations and their associated treaties and domestic laws. And through national policies at the ports where cargo is offloaded. And through rules from the home countries of the fishing fleets.

  4. SAMANTHA WHITCRAFT · May 9, 2012

    Agree to disagree. Landing sharks with fins attached will only increase demand by making access to the fins (the most valuable part of the shark and the product driving the extinction of the most threatened species). Traditionally fisheries management has failed, repeatedly, even when ‘science-based’. Addressing consumer demand is not the only approach but it is one of the most important, currently, in working towards the conservation of many shark species. And, I might add, the years of work by multiple organizations to finally begin to enact these bans, is working. Never before has there been more attention on the issue, from the general public. Science has a role to play as tool for conservation but, alone, it cannot bring about the kind of social change needed to safe-guard our ocean for the future.

    • Chuck · May 9, 2012

      I would argue that fisheries management has only just begun showing progress in rebuilding shark populations, at least in the U.S. Granted they’re very modest and very recent increases following huge declines, but no management plan for sharks has been developed without acknowledging that recovery might take decades. Check out Baum and Blanchard 2010 ( and Carlson et al. 2012 ( for evidence of population increases for tigers, spinners, bulls, and lemons, with potentially halted or slowed declines for other species. In both papers U.S. fishery management policies from the 90s-2000s were the only positive shark conservation developments within the time series. Fisheries management shouldn’t be discounted as a tool for shark conservation.

  5. Shannon McCorison · May 9, 2012

    Certainly a lot to consider. Thank you for facilitating the discussion and for posting the Storify version!

  6. Joey · May 9, 2012

    Nice work on stimulating conversation on a topic that needs it. It isn’t an easy thing to debate, especially if you’re a shark lover (and I am).

    I agree that outright banning of fins could potentially do as much harm as good, and that long-term management plans are essential for sustainability.

    The problem is time. We all know the rate of decline of some shark populations, and I don’t think it can be denied that finning has gone a long way to speed things up. Management plans take years to implement, and enforcement is extremely difficult. Some species would require years of essentially no fishing to even start talking about a sustainable fishery. Meanwhile, fishing and finning (legal and illegal) will continue unchecked until there is either a) no profit in it of b) no sharks left to catch.

    There is hope of course, and conversations like these are a big part of it. But I think in order to see a day where these fisheries are managed with caution and strictly based on scientific data, there will have to be some outright bans and harsher quotas, even if for only long enough for all parties involved to get their heads on straight.

  7. Jordan Nikoloyuk · May 9, 2012

    Thanks again David for starting this conversation yesterday. It’s really interesting to see the mix of science/management/advocacy approaches all together. Our organization doesn’t work on fin bans, but several of our friends here in Canada do, and have been somewhat successful at reducing demand in some population centres.

    Like you, I think that “a comprehensive approach to shark management” including fins-attached regulations, endangered/threatened protections, scientific quotas, time/area/gear restriction and monitoring would be THE ideal solution. I don’t have a moral opposition to consuming shark products any more than I do to other fisheries, but sharks are uniquely vulnerable and need management responses.

    The problem is that the above list is an ENORMOUS set of things to ask. We could work for a decade to achieve even one of them. In Canada, something as easy to implement as fins-attached regulations is somehow framed as a political betrayal of fishermen that will forever cripple the industry, and things can get even worse at the RFMO level. Even protection of endangered species is difficult to secure, and they’re called endangered species.

    Shark fin bans don’t address many of the problems facing sharks and may not be appropriate management tools in the long-term, but they are achievable. With enough fin bans we would remove one of the major drivers for shark consumption and for the retention of bycaught sharks. I think that would be a conservation success, even if we could point out a lot of reasons why it wouldn’t be perfect, and couldn’t stop there.

    I think that the most important question is whether or not fin bans are actually counter-productive. They certainly tend to dominate conversations, and arguably take time away from other work (though the organizations I know working on fin bans probably wouldn’t otherwise be focused on marine issues at all). On the other hand, they accomplish something, they raise some awareness, and they associate sharks with conservation issues rather than with Jaws. I also think that the existence of municipal bans helps us at management meetings because of how much public support they get.

    All that to say: I don’t know what the answer is, or what the best strategy is, or how to definitively get from where we are to where we want to be, but I do think fin bans can be a part of it (just not something I’d focus on myself).

  8. John Bruno · May 9, 2012

    Thank you David for stimulating and storifying this! I learned a lot from the diverse perspectives.

    My personal (non-professional) feeling, based on my ethical / spiritual outlook (and not on science) is that shark finning should be illegal because it is morally abhorrent. Regardless of it’s efficacy in restoring and protecting shark populations.

    Because most shark fins are in an international export market, fin consumption, sale etc would not have to be banned in the few asian countries driving most of the global demand (which is unlikely). Rather, only in the nations supplying the sharks (and squandering an invaluable natural resource).

    But I see your point that simply banning finning does not stop shark fishing/killing.

    You certainly know much more than me about this topic and I know you think deeply about it. But it isn’t clear to me that the whole-body landings laws do much good; in Ecuador it is illegal to fin (per se) and you have to bring the whole animal to shore… where they are promptly finned for export.

    I disagree with those arguing that international bans on wildlife trades are ineffective. Sure, there is black market leakyness, but well enforced bans have done wonders for African megafauna. If it is illegal and recognizably amoral and ecological stupid to harvest lions and tigers for food, we should expect and demand the same for large ocean predators like sharks.

    It is hard to prove, but I’d agree that the growing demand for fins is increasing fishing pressure on sharks. But honestly, sharks disappeared in many places, e.g., most the Caribbean, long before the fin market exploded. I think even modest recreational fishing is plenty to greatly deplete coastal sharks.

    Which leads to my final point: I somewhat doubt any or many shark populations could realistically be sustainably managed. Shark demography is just so sensitive to the increased adult mortality of fishing. Two new studies really drive this message home:

    Nadon et al 2012:
    Hisano et al 2011:

  9. Catherine Macdonald · May 10, 2012

    I think it is useful to think of ‘fin bans’ as heuristics intended to communicate something about how we as a culture view consumptive (particularly wasteful consumptive) use of sharks. In terms of the economics and incentives to fish, ‘fin bans’ may not accomplish much. In terms of communicating about the social norms we are endorsing as a society re: shark conservation, they possibly have more merit.

    It’s also just factually true that the “best” management of fisheries focused on shark species is incredibly difficult, technical, and complicated. Realistically, we’re not adopting a widespread system which manages sharks in the way you describe in the near future. So fin bans (which express distaste for the practice of finning and may somewhat reduce incentives to fish for sharks in the waters of those states) are better than nothing. It’s one of those times where you don’t want to let aspiring to the “perfect” solution prevent you from considering all the tools at your disposal.

  10. Michel Lavoie · May 19, 2012

    I think the first thing to do is enforce the ban and then talk. My question is: Do those advocating “comprehensive fisheries management” have a concrete implementable step by step plan or do they just want the slaugther to continue until they have an implementable plan. Even with the right plan, until they get all nations to agree on their plan, and create a group with the teeth and tools to enforce that plan, which will take years or even decades, they should be laughed a, considered irrealistic dreamers and considered as shark ennemies just stalling for time so the massacre can continue. We have less then 10 years to save the sharks. It will take way more than that to implement an “internationally accepted comprehensive fisheries managemet”. Just observe negotiations world wide on all sorts of subjects (congress, Syria, North Korea, Pfizer, Sport athletes, ??????) Talking takes time and sharks are out of time as far as I know

    • WhySharksMatter · May 19, 2012

      “We have less then 10 years to save the sharks.”

      Wow, less than ten years? That sounds really serious! Strange that I’ve never come across that figure before. I don’t suppose you have a source for that?

  11. angelique · May 22, 2012

    I do supprot shark fin bans and while we are at it there should be a ban against any shark fishing what so ever. Don’t people get that sharks maintain the balances in the ocean and that they are messing with it. Is it not bad enough that they are over fishing the oceans and already destroying the very sustainabality of earth. Nope not yet . They will just keep on going and going unless they are limited.

    • WhySharksMatter · May 22, 2012

      The ecological importance of sharks does not preclude fishing for them, it just precludes overfishing.

  12. Barrett · May 28, 2012

    Just an anecdote from the US Pacific longline fleet- Captains often don’t want to retain sharks- they do not last as long as many target species in the hold and they tend to stink the hold up like ammonia, and the meat doesn’t fetch a great price. Before the total fin ban, there was a ban on finning only when not retaining the entire shark carcass, I saw sharks getting killed and retained that otherwise wouldn’t have, only to also be able to keep fins in an observers presence. If fins weren’t harvested, a lot of live sharks would have never been boated.

    What I am suggesting is there isn’t a way to entirely decouple shark meat demand from fin demand, unless the fins were actually taken off the animal and confiscated at port. This complicates regulated fisheries because the driver in a meat fishery may actually be the fins, that may end up being worth more to the fishermen than the actual carcass (especially when fin sales are on the black market!)

  13. gorian · June 3, 2012

    i think that shark killing should be banned.When people catch the sharks the fins are ripped off, and nothing is done with the body. Some of the time the sharks are alive after this and just being thrown in the water to suffer. Sharks are my favorite sea creature and it would be horrible for one day sharks or different species of sharks being extinct.

    • WhySharksMatter · June 4, 2012

      “When people catch the sharks the fins are ripped off, and nothing is done with the body”

      That’s certainly true of “shark finning”, which I fully support bans of. A lot of shark fins don’t come from finning anymore, particularly in the developed countries that are passing fin bans. There’s a difference between banning finning and banning fins.

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