Your help needed: Oppose a weakened shark finning ban in Maryland

The state of Maryland is proposing new regulations that would, among other things, weaken the state ban on shark finning by allowing fishermen to remove the fins of smoothhound sharks at sea,  as long as the ratio of the weight of the fins does not exceed 12% of the ratio of the carcasses. These “fin ratios” are already troubling and ineffective ways to enforce finning bans. Landing sharks with fins naturally attached is considered the best practice for shark fisheries management. A 12% ratio is exceptionally high (3.5-5% are common ratios worldwide) and risks enabling unscrupulous fishermen to remove the fins of not only smoothhound sharks, but other species whose fins could be passed off as such. This makes it harder for managers to track how many sharks of which species are being killed.

In New York, smoothhounds are landed with fins naturally attached. They should be in Maryland, too! Photo credit: Sonja Fordham.

Some fishermen claim that smoothhound sharks can’t be landed with fins naturally attached, but this photo from New York challenges that notion.  Photo provided anonymously for this post.

Maryland’s Department of Natural Resources is taking public comments on this policy, which means that you can help!

Please send an e-mail to [email protected] by the end of the day on Monday, January 27th containing the following information:

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Public passion for shark finning bans is great. How do we channel it towards other issues?

A recent proposal in New Zealand to outlaw shark finning received more than 45,000 public comments from all over the world, a staggering amount of public interest in fisheries policy. This is great news, because though many activists don’t really know what it means, shark finning is a major threat. Shark finning may well be the most brutal and wasteful method of gathering food in the history of human civilization, and  New Zealand was one of the few developed nations that still legally allowed any form of  the practice. Though there are still some significant issues with New Zealand’s proposal, it was  still very exciting to see so much public passion for an issue that few cared about, or even knew about, when I was growing up.

However, a finning ban is merely a first step, for the most part only controlling how sharks are killed, not how many are killed. A recent study showed that finning bans alone were insufficient to ensure sustainable fisheries. In many nations (including the United States), the interested public has a role to play in implementing all or most of the next steps a comprehensive sustainable fisheries policy for sharks and other fishes. Unfortunately, we haven’t seen anywhere near the same level of public engagement in other shark conservation issues as we see for big, flashy issues like bans on finning.

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What the $&!* happened? A summary of the “contradictory, confusing, and inconsistent” EU finning ban votes

Last Wednesday morning, the Fisheries Committee of the European Parliament voted on proposed amendments that would, if passed, form their response to the European Commission’s 2011 proposal to end all removal of shark fins at sea (and thereby close loopholes in the EU finning ban).  As the EU is the single largest supplier of shark fins to the Hong Kong markets, the eyes of the marine conservation community were focused squarely on Brussels, where the vote was taking place. Despite the numerous celebratory tweets , press releases , and Facebook updates that I observed, the vote didn’t go as well as hoped. The result has been described as “contradictory”, “confusing”, “puzzling”, and “inconsistent”, and it’s hard to disagree with that summary.

The Committee voted on a series of amendments, most of which had been debated earlier this year. Most of the problematic amendments were defeated and several positive amendments were endorsed. One of the most closely watched, which would have maintained exceptions to the current ban on at-sea fin removal and would have raised the fin to carcass ratio to 14% of dressed weight, was defeated. However, proposed text which refers (in principle, but without details)  to removal of fins at sea also narrowly passed.

Yes, you read that correctly. MEPs (Members of European Parliament) voted to adopt text that suggests that removing fins at sea is sometimes acceptable, but voted to accept the Commission’s proposal to delete that part of the current regulation allowing for such exceptions. Contradictory, confusing, puzzling, and inconsistent indeed!

Don’t worry, though- this isn’t over. One of the next steps is a discussion before a Plenary session of the full European Parliament, which will consider these issues. This will likely take place in the next few months, perhaps as early as mid-October.

“We will continue to urge all MEPs to promptly remove all confusion in Plenary and clearly endorse a strict EU policy against removing shark fins at sea, without exceptions,” said Sonja Fordham, President of Shark Advocates International.

I’ll keep you posted on what’s happening and how you can help.