U.S. government: shark fin bans “significantly undermine conservation and management of Federal shark fisheries”


Photo Credit: Jessica King, Marine Photobank

Photo Credit: Jessica King, Marine Photobank

I’ve written in the past about why shark fin bans might not be the best tool for the conservation and management of sharks. Though specific details vary, these so-called “blanket bans” typically make it illegal for anyone to buy, sell, or possess shark fins regardless of the source *. Additionally, to date most of these fin bans have taken place in a few U.S. states and Canadian towns. If the goal of these state-level fin bans is to reduce the supply of fins to the global market, proponents should consider that  according to TRAFFIC, more than 95% of the supply of shark products comes from countries outside of the U.S. and Canada.  Even if every U.S. state passed a fin ban, it would have a negligible  direct impact on global supply. Additionally, the United States has some of the most sustainably managed shark fisheries in the world (hammerhead sharks and a few others are an exception). We want other countries to emulate out management practices, not to remove our management practices from the global marketplace.

If the goal of these local fin bans is to reduce global demand, proponents should consider that the overwhelming majority of the demand for shark fin soup is in China and Southeast Asia, where passing such bans will pose a significant challenge. Some proponents of fin bans say (after the negligible impact on supply and demand is pointed out) that fin bans help with  “raising awareness of the problem of overfishing of sharks”. While these fin bans do result in (relatively) positive media coverage for shark conservation, “raising awareness” is not the publicly stated goal of these bans. If your goal is to educate people about a problem, educate people about the problem.

Instead of inflexible and ineffective fin bans that penalize fishermen who have adopted best practices * without impacting the global market, I’ve advocated for a science-based approach to sustainable shark management following the 10 basic principles in line with what has been laid out in the United Nations Fisheries and Aquaculture Organization’s International Plan of Action for Sharks and IUCN Shark Specialist Group guidance. These principles include banning finning of sharks by requiring that carcasses be landed whole (recall that finning is a specific fishing practice not synonymous with the fin trade), using science-based quotas to manage the fisheries of sharks whose populations can support a fishery, and restricting the harvest of species whose populations cannot.

Recently, the United States National Marine Fisheries Service (which, once again, manages some of the most sustainable shark fisheries on Earth) has started to officially speak out against state level fin bans.

In their response to the petition to list scalloped hammerheads under the Endangered Species Act, the National Marine Fisheries Service noted that: “we do not find these [state-level shark fin bans] to be conservation measures that we consider effective in reducing current threats to the any of the DPSs [Distinct Population Segments of scalloped hammerhead sharks”

In a comment posted in today’s Federal Register about the implementation of the 2010 Shark Conservation Act, NMFS had much more to say about state level shark fin bans.

“Several states and territories have enacted or are considering enacting statutes that address shark fins. Each statute differs in its precise details, but generally most contain a prohibition on possession, landing or sale of, or other activities involving, shark fins… These statutes have the potential to undermine significantly conservation and management of federal shark fisheries. Under the Magnuson-Stevens Act, the United States claims sovereign rights and exclusive fishery management authority over all fish, and all Continental Shelf fishery resources, within the U.S. exclusive economic zone (EEZ) and also claims exclusive fishery management authority for specified resources beyond the EEZ…The Magnuson-Stevens Act defines “conservation and management” as including measures “which are designed to assure that . . . a supply of food and other products may be taken, and that recreational benefits may be obtained, on a continuing basis.National Standard 1 requires that conservation and management measures under a fishery management plan, plan amendment or implementing regulations “prevent overfishing while achieving, on a continuing basis, the optimum yield from each fishery for the United States fishing industry…State prohibitions on possession, landing, transfer, or sale of sharks or shark fins lawfully harvested seaward of state boundaries constrain the ability of federal fishery participants to make use of those sharks for commercial and other purposes…Congress chose to prohibit discarding shark carcasses at sea, and required that fins be naturally attached to the carcass of the corresponding shark. The SCA [Shark Conservation Act of 2010] therefore reflects a balance between addressing the wasteful practice of shark finning and preserving opportunities to land and sell sharks harvested consistent with the Magnuson-Stevens Act. Although state shark fin laws are also intended to conserve sharks, they may not [as in “are not permitted to”] unduly interfere with the conservation and management of federal fisheries….The Magnuson-Stevens Act preempts state regulation of fisheries in waters outside the boundaries of a state…, a state law that interferes with accomplishing the purposes and objectives of the Magnuson-Stevens Act would be preempted. As described above, promoting commercial fishing under sound conservation and management principles is a key purpose of the Act. If sharks are lawfully caught in federal waters, state laws that prohibit the possession and landing of those sharks with fins naturally attached or that prohibit the sale, transfer or possession of fins from those sharks unduly interfere with achievement of Magnuson-Stevens Act purposes and objectives.”

It’s worth reading the entire note to get a sense of NMFS’ thorough legal, practical and philosophical objections to shark fin bans. Before you celebrate news like today’s announcement that the Maryland shark fin ban is poised to be signed into law, stop and think whether state-level shark fin bans are the best use of the time and resources of the conservation movement. The fisheries management agency responsible for some of the most sustainable shark fishing on the planet certainly doesn’t think that they are, and may even be taking action to prempt them.

*Some proposed fin bans exempt locally caught species. For example, the proposed Maryland ban exempts species like smoothhound sharks (which are by far the most commonly caught local species). The NMFS explanation in the Federal register says that this may be acceptable: “For example, if a state law prohibiting the possession, landing, or sale of shark fins is interpreted not to apply to sharks legally harvested in federal waters, the law would not be preempted.”


  1. Andrew Carter · May 2, 2013

    While it may undermine management of shark fisheries from the NMFS perspective (since their mission is to maintain such fisheries, not eliminate them) they don’t really make a convincing case for their claim that these kinds of bans undermine conservation. I think just about everyone agrees that a sustainable fishery is better than an unsustainable one, but the NMFS’ belief that a sustainable fishery is better than no fishery at all is not a universal one.

    They would also have an uphill battle showing federal preemption, I know at least one court already rejected that argument in the context of a fin ban, though that was only at the district court level.

    • David Shiffman · May 2, 2013

      Hi, Andrew, and thanks for commenting! For everyone’s reference, Andrew is a Ph.D. student in my program, but has a law degree, so he knows what he’s talking about with legal precedents.

      “While it may undermine management of shark fisheries from the NMFS perspective they don’t really make a convincing case for their claim that these kinds of bans undermine conservation.”

      In the full piece they define “conservation and management” together as including sustainable fisheries.

      “the NMFS’ belief that a sustainable fishery is better than no fishery at all is not a universal one.”

      It’s not just the NMFS’ belief, it’s current U.S. law (the MSA).

    • Andrew Carter · May 2, 2013

      Thanks, though you’re probably being a little generous…probably more like “he tries to sound like he knows what he’s talking about”…

      And definitely, no objection that the U.S. government’s official position is we should have fisheries, albeit sustainable ones, as is the position of some local and state governments. While local shark fin bans may complicate management separately, I just don’t see how reducing demand is going to have a negative impact on actual conservation in terms of maintaining or increasing abundance.

      Granted, I am probably biased here. I have a lot of skepticism towards the NMFS based on their spotty history managing a lot of stocks (though from what I’ve read they’re reasonably good at shark fishery management), as well as the influence fishing interests have on the councils. And I don’t really buy some of the convoluted ways (to me) that they divide up DPSes to allow fishing of species that globally have seen terrible shifting baselines over the past few decades.

  2. Dan G. · May 2, 2013

    I read the NMFS language on preemption to mean that if a state banned the possession/sale of fins from sharks harvested in state water only, it wouldn’t preempt Federal law. I don’t think it implies that the MD dogfish exemption is acceptable, simply because the MD bill doesn’t distinguish between dogfish landed in state or federal waters. And because the bill prohibits possession of all other federally-landed shark fins, it still undercuts Magnuson per NMFS argument. The dogfish exemption was purely a political win.


  3. José Truda Palazzo Jr. · May 2, 2013

    No fishing and trade restrictions that lead to no fishing, in a world where overfishing is wiping out stock after stock and species after species with very few exceptions, is better for conservation than any fishing “regulated” in theory. The arguments to the contrary are just BS wrapped in fishermen-appeasing talk. Period.

  4. Eric · May 2, 2013

    I guess I found this a little hard to follow, honestly. But it seems like besides where they directly say these state laws “significantly undermine conservation and management…” efforts, they are otherwise just stating that these laws are a waste of time because in the end the MSA just supercedes/preempts/makes them irrelevant. Am I interpreting this incorrectly? That is to say, it’s not REALLY undermining anything because with the MSA the state level laws just don’t matter.

    Though I fully agree that if this is true they are a waste of time and if education is the goal, there are better ways to go about it. I’m sure those state legislatures have bigger problems to deal with anyway.

    • David Shiffman · May 3, 2013

      Eric, that may be because I truncated the quote (the full explanation is many paragraphs long). I recommend reading the full explanation. It’s still pretty jargon-y, as is common with policy documents, but it may be more coherent.

  5. Dashark · May 3, 2013

    @ José Truda Palazzo Jr.

    Please enlighten me.
    Which marine Fish species after species (with very few exceptions) have been wiped out by overfishing?

    Also, what are your reservations against sustainable fishing – or do you simply oppose any fishing regardless of whether and how the fishery is being managed?

  6. Bari Gowan · May 3, 2013

    I am a shark diver. I have been scuba-diving and observing sharks for over 30 years in the oceans around our planet. I find the term ‘stocks’ used in regard of any non-domestic animal very offensive. These are wild creatures who have evolved over the millennia just as we ourselves have done. We do not own them. We have no ‘rights’ over them whatsoever. Exterminating other species is a thing which we alone of all animals do on a depressingly regular basis. But, we do this at our own peril. Such drastic reductions in marine biotic diversity, especially at the ‘apex’ end of the food web starts a chain reaction will end in our own demise.

    • David Shiffman · May 3, 2013

      You’re entitled to your opinion, but the role of the government is to coordinate resource usage between competing interests. Sustainable fisheries are a more than reasonable compromise.

  7. Nicholas · May 3, 2013


    You stated

    “If the goal of these local fin bans is to reduce global demand, proponents should consider that the overwhelming majority of the demand for shark fin soup is in China and Southeast Asia, where passing such bans will pose a significant challenge. Some proponents of fin bans say (after the negligible impact on supply and demand is pointed out) that fin bans help with ”raising awareness of the problem of overfishing of sharks”. While these fin bans do result in (relatively) positive media coverage for shark conservation, “raising awareness” is not the publicly stated goal of these bans. If your goal is to educate people about a problem, educate people about the problem.”

    This argument has been tried before. Its quite simple really, educating these masses through conventional means is ridiculously difficult.

    I live in South East Asia, in the heart of the shark fin industry. If you try to go out of your way to educate these masses you will realise what you are facing and that is a multibillion dollar industry and its lobbyists.

    Was there any surprise that during the latest CITES meeting there was such strong resistance from China and other shark fin dependent (and bribed) nations to listing certain shark species as Appendix II. These nations will fight tooth and nail to retain their right to the obscenely unsustainable levels of shark fin consumption.

    The mentality of these people (majority) towards the eating of shark fin is that it is part of their culture and that any attack on that would be construed as racism. I have tried on numerous occasions to educate them and have always met a blank expression of “It doesn’t affect me so why should I stop doing what I am doing”.

    So your recommendation is to try and educate these people? How about instead of playing the “what about our sustainable fisheries card” why not suggest a strategy regarding the education of the consumers?

    Believe me the only way to educate these people is through action that warrants media response and that action is to ban the sale outright. This forces the consumers in these nations to really consider what is going on and question “Wow they are banning shark fin this must be important”.

    When other nations eventually follow suit and establish sustainable shark fisheries then you can remove bans on shark fin products, until then every chance must be taken to alert the world to this ecological disaster that is unfolding. You are clearly aware that 100 million sharks are being harvested annually and numerous shark populations are down more than 90%.

    The sharks do not have 50 years for us to figure out what we are doing is wrong, they have significantly less than that. If banning shark fins gets the issue into the media then it is a necessary step towards addressing the issue.

  8. José Truda Palazzo Jr. · May 3, 2013

    David, have you ever heard abour hammerhead sharks, or a country named Brazil – of which incidentally I have the misfortune of being a citizen of?

    My reservations about “sustainable” fishing is that the history and data show that for most cases it has been only business as usual disguised as sustainable, nothing more than that. Granted, you could make a case for a few cases where stocks do not seem to be declining in a few developed country areas, but for sharks in particular that is simply not the case.

    I understand that the role of government is to mediate on behalf of the public good. I also understand that in 99% of the cases the public is best served by conserving apex predators and promoting, when feasible, their direct non-lethal uses in activities such as recreational diving, or even simply maintaining them there to serve the public through their role in the health of ecosystems. Your lobbying for an utopian “sustainable” fishing is, in my real-world view, entirely unwarranted and so is the US federal government´s ranting against shark bans. More sharks in the ocean will always be better than any “sustainable fishery” take, and THAT to me is scientifically sound.

  9. Sharkman · May 3, 2013

    Hi David, while your academic ideas are grounded in science, they are biased (as all of ours are in one way or another) by an NMFS outlook which 1. wants to regulate things (because that is their role) and 2. believes that sustainable fisheries can be achieved. I too am a very strong proponent in sustainable fisheries for a number of reasons – not the least of which is that over 3 billion people on this planet depend on fish as their primary, and only affordable, source of protein. The problem is that sustainable fisheries – globally – have failed more often than not. In the real world, they rarely work. Just look at what is still happening with the cod fishery in the NE as well as numerous gulf coast fisheries. Fishermen, ever desperate to continue unsustainable harvests put too much pressure on govt representatives and agencies and in the end, management practices are more often run by their decrees and not by science. In the US, this is often because fishermen comprise the majority of management boards. Having traveled to over 100 countries, dived in many and founded an NGO with the goal of promoting ocean conservation, may I offer another perspective as well … The rest of the world looks towards the US in setting their own policies. You are absolutely correct in that finning bans in the US will do little significant good in stemming the flow of fins. Most of the fins are neither caught nor consumed here. However, creating finning bans and the public awareness that creates – globally – does make a difference. I’ve seen it. Lastly, I would be interested in seeing the science that supports this statement: ” “we do not find these [state-level shark fin bans] to be conservation measures that we consider effective in reducing current threats to the any of the DPSs [Distinct Population Segments of scalloped hammerhead sharks.” As well, I would be interested in seeing the list of shark species that NMFS believes are currently being sustainably fished in US waters. Thank you for posting this article.

  10. Lauren · May 3, 2013

    Hi David,
    The state bans are not just to reduce the global supply of shark fins, they are also to reduce the consumption of shark fins in U.S. states. Many states that have passed the ban such as Hawaii and California have fairly large populations that take part in the consumption of shark fin soup. New York, which has proposed the ban, has one of the highest concentrations of Chinese, Taiwanese and Hong Kongese outside of China in the boroughs surrounding Manhattan. It is not just about global consumption, but also setting the tone for consumption practices at home.

    I’m not sure which TRAFFIC article you are reading, but a 2011 report from TRAFFIC and Pew states that the U.S. is ranked 8th in the world for shark catching, which to me doesn’t seem negligible at all. In 2010, the U.S. exported 36 million tons of shark fins and imported 34 million tons, which reinforces my statement that the state bans aren’t just to reduce the global demand but also the demand in the U.S. The fins caught by commercial fishermen in the U.S. are also not sold locally. The majority of fins are exported to Hong Kong, mainland China and Singapore among other large shark fin trading countries, and then are imported back. This must mean they impact the global market since the fins aren’t staying local.

    If you would like to speak more about this, let me know.

    • David Shiffman · May 3, 2013

      Hi, Lauren!

      We’re reading the same TRAFFIC report. U.S. is #8 in the world, but accounts for less than 4% of all shark sold. I’d argue that the latter number is more significant when discussing the impact of trade bans.

      I never said that no one in U.S. states consumes shark fin. I said that the amount of consumption here is negligible compared to the amount consumed in China and Southeast Asia.

      Also, “setting the tone for consumption practices at home” is fine, but that’s not what proponents of the laws are publicly saying that they accomplish.

  11. Alayne · May 3, 2013

    Hi David, I’ve read some of your articles on shark fin issues, and I think you make valid points (especially the one on clarifying terms in the shark fin conversation). And although I understand the need to consider the issue in regard to fisheries management, I see it, as I think many conservationists do, more in terms of stopping an animal from going extinct because of a consumer demand. Shark fins represent the demise of many shark species–very important apex species. You would never find an ivory elephant tusk in a store down the street; so the fact that they found a scalloped hammerhead in a Boston restaurant just down the street from my house last year (http://www.oceanconservationscience.org/media/2012/nr_2012.08.08.shtml), is unacceptable. The United States and other international governments have passed legislation to protect elephants from being hunted for their ivory by making the purchase and sale of elephant tusks illegal–why not do the same for sharks? It is a practice (banning the sale/trade to save an animal population from dying out) that has been considered an effective plan in other cases. It seems to me that when it comes to fisheries in the United States, these basic concepts go out the window in the face of powerful fisheries lobbyists. I would argue that enforcement and reporting of the trade in general is needed on the international level to track what types of shark are being bought and sold, but with international organizations slow to implement this type of tracking, it won’t happen any time soon. So in the meantime, shark fin bans do have the soft power–collectively to make a statement. Whether or not this is the exact intention of those striving for shark fin bans–it is a reason to support them.

    I would also argue that although shark fin ban proponents don’t use “setting the tone for consumption practices at home” as their primary message, it is certainly a driving factor–one of a few fueled by the overall goal of saving sharks. The overall goal of this global movement is to ban the sale and trade in many countries–there are people working in Canada, Australia, UK and many other countries around the world to ban the sale and trade of shark fins. If they are all successful, the trade will be reduced. If the main countries supporting shark fin trade and consumption are the only partaking in it, perhaps some of the 100 million sharks killed every year for their fins will live. There is always a concern for black markets in this setting, but the alternative is to allow endangered species to be sold in soup in every corner of the world and be okay with it. Many of us are just not.

    I do really appreciate this platform for an ongoing discussion of ocean conservation issues, so thank you for your insight and for posting.

  12. Chuck Bangley · May 3, 2013

    I feel like Dave would appreciate at least one other commenter supporting the main idea of this post, so here goes. The current best-available science suggests that, as we sit here slugging it out in the comments thread, many shark populations are actually stabilizing or increasing in US waters. Sand tiger sharks have become a common, regularly-occurring species in much of their range. Great whites are again making regular appearances along the east coast. Fishing mortality on sandbar sharks has stabilized and their population trends are looking up. Blacktip sharks continue to be the most commonly-encountered large coastal shark along the east coast and Gulf of Mexico. Bull and tiger sharks are showing upward population trends. Evidence suggests that spiny dogfish have rebounded from overfishing faster than anyone could have expected. Hammerheads lag behind these trends mainly due to being lumped into a fishery complex for far too long, but now NMFS is focusing on them and if their track record with other sharks continues we should see positive results there too. My sources for these statements include not only NMFS’ own stock assessments, but also papers from very conservation-minded researchers like John Carlson (Carlson et al. 2012) and Julia Baum (Baum and Blanchard 2010).

    The point is that all of this has been accomplished without restricting the trade of shark fins within and through the United States. Regulations have improved; landing of some species is prohibited altogether, and those that can still be fished must be landed intact (with the exception of smooth dogfish, but that’s a whole different post). That means that shark fishermen working in US waters have to land sharks in a way that allows for species-level identification, uses the whole shark, and mitigates dirty tricks like landing the carcass of one species with the fins of another. In addition to these large-scale measures, US shark management includes polices like size limits, gear requirements to mitigate bycatch mortality, and time/area closures to prevent fishing on mating aggregations or nursery areas. Is it perfect? Absolutely not, but it’s a lot better than what most other countries with a decent-sized shark fishery are doing.

    These fin bans are bad because they hurt the fishermen that are following these regulations and participating in, believe it or not, the best-managed shark fishery in the world. US shark fishermen already fish under strict, low quotas and other regulations and are now feeling the pinch from the California fin ban through reduced prices for their catch. If they can continue to make a living while still allowing shark populations to rebuild to a healthy level, I call that a win. The really egregious fishing practices like finning live sharks and massive quotas (or no quota at all) are illegal in this country, and if the major consumers of shark fins can’t get them from us they’ll get them from someone with worse fishery policies. All fin bans do in the US is punish the good guys.

  13. Sebastian · May 3, 2013


    Respectfully, I disagree with your premise from several standpoints. I think these statewide bans are a significant moral step toward national and international action against shark finning and the selling of shark products in general, which I personally think is a good thing. Each ban is gaining significant press about the issue of shark finning, and shark conservation in general, which should not be discounted (you are talking about them aren’t you). Without these bans, the status-quo will likely continue which involves the highly unacceptable killing of tens of millions of sharks worldwide. I further disagree with your liberal use of the word sustainable. If a shark fishery is ‘sustainably’ fished at 10% of it’s previous population, is that at all a good thing? Most shark species are still ecologically speaking extinct in U.S. waters regardless of their stock size or NMFS’ fisheries management successes in the last few decades. The U.S. led the world by banning commercial whaling, and most countries followed in the decades to follow, we now have very little whaling activity left on the entire planet. This has allowed whale populations to flourish and helped whale based tourism to grow considerably. In 50 years from now we will likely look back and respect the early pioneers in shark conservation and see statewide shark fin bans as a small, but significant step in the right direction. I enjoy fishing and eating seafood, but shark is a luxury food and the practice of shark finning is deplorable. We need to do everything we can to stop sharks from peril including statewide bans, regardless of how it impacts a few dozen ‘responsible’ shark fishers in the U.S. Fishermen and consumers have choices, sharks don’t.

  14. Catherine · May 3, 2013

    This issue exemplifies the conflicting mandates of NOAA. It helps to separate those mandates and then ask why NMFS opposes the bans.

    On the one hand, NMFS tries to make the fishery biologically sustainable by controlling or limiting fishing.
    On the other hand, NMFS promotes fishery markets so that fishing increases and meets social and economic goals.

    Is NMFS opposing the bans because it believes the bans will hurt the fisheries science or perhaps make fishing biologically unsustainable? No. Selling fewer shark products will make shark populations more resilient to ocean threats (pollution, climate change), therefore more biologically sustainable. If anything, having some recovery in the populations – or at least ups and downs – will give more data to scientists. It’s hard to predict recovery when a population has been flatlined since before we started monitoring it.

    Is NMFS opposing the bans to keep demand for fishermen’s products? Yes. This part of NMFS is susceptible to industry capture because it’s set up to serve the industry. The vast majority of citizens in MD oppose shark finning? Too bad, industry lobbyists ensure NMFS uses taxpayer dollars to keep markets open for shark products.

    This last part is distasteful to me from a good government standpoint. Why should U.S. government subsidize fishing to support other countries’ appetite for luxury shark products? It would be different if NMFS said “starving people in MD can feed themselves on shark fin except for this ban.” That’s not the case. I oppose building a Keystone pipeline so Canada can ship oil to other countries. Is this different? Instead of an oil spill, the accident is underestimating one shark species’ growth rate, resilience to other threats, genetic differentiation, effect on the ecosystem… Oops, extinction, ecosystem collapse, whatever. That’s not a risk the U.S. public has to bear in order to ship shark fins to another country. The mantra as “against conservation and management” seems like a guise for a federal power grab.

  15. Jupp Kerckerinck · May 7, 2013

    I totally agree with Andrew Carter, who mentioned that “they don’t really make a convincing case for their claim that these kinds of bans undermine conservation.” Jose Truda Palazzo Jr. called it “BS wrapped in fishermen-appeasing talk”. I also agree with Eric, who said: “I found this a little hard to follow” and frankly, so do I. Nicolas says: “When other nations eventually follow suit and establish sustainable shark fisheries then you can remove bans on shark fin products, until then every chance must be taken to alert the world to this ecological disaster that is unfolding”. Again, I agree. We need the ban on shark fins and other shark products and if the federal government does not do that, then the states should.
    Nobody is talking about passing such bans in China and Southeast Asia, but passing these bans on state level in the U.S., is a wonderful tool. The EU, for example, has been talking about sustainable fisheries for years but everybody knows, that this has not been the case. EU-Trawlers have been looting the ocean in West Africa to a point, that local fishermen can not catch enough fish to feed their own families. Those are all government controlled fisheries and there is nothing sustainable about them. The MSC seal, which stands for Marine Stewardship Council, founded by Unilever and the WWF, claiming sustainability, has been misleading to say the least and was unmasked by PBS and the “Blackbook WWF”.
    Sharkman says: “…..creating finning bans and the public awareness it creates – globally – does make a difference”. Yes Alex, you are right and I agree. Lauren, who mentioned the TRAFFIC and PEW reports, says that: “the U.S. exported 36 million tons of shark fins and imported 34 million tons of fins, which reinforces my statement that the state bans aren’t just to reduce the global demand but also the demand in the U.S.” Assuming that the U.S. does not import the same fins that were exported, just add those two figures and we are talking about 70 million tons of shark fins, in and out of the U.S. alone? Keep in mind that the 36 million tons of shark fins the U.S. is exporting, only make up 4% of all shark sold (according to David), then consider that the fins on average only make up 5% of the total weight of a shark, then you come up with a mind-boggling number of sharks killed. As I mentioned before, I am not a scientist nor am I claiming to be one; but I am not stupid either. Wouldn’t it be much better if the federal government would drastically reduce the number of sharks that can ‘legally’ be killed, instead of claiming that banning shark fins in some states would “undermine” conservation and their management of federal shark fisheries?
    I love what Brian Darvell wrote: “I suspect that you have missed the point entirely: this is not about numbers, it is about principle.  Bans set an example, sending a message, to strengthen the hand of all involved in attempts at conservation and isolating those countries that promote the trade or condone one way or another”. How could anyone not agree with that?
    My last question: Can anybody please tell me what a “federal shark fishery” is exactly? And why do they think that the ban of shark fins in some states would undermine their management of shark fisheries, when they already do such a lousy job? But if Chuck Bangley is right, and “all shark populations are stabilizing, and all fishermen are participating in the best managed shark fisheries in the world”, which amost makes me laugh, why are we all working in shark protection? Why don’t we all go and spend our money and time on vacations. It all doesn’t make sense to me.

    • Andrew David Thaler · May 7, 2013

      Hi Jupp, I can’t seem to find the quote that you attributed to Chuck that “all shark populations are stabilizing, and all fishermen are participating in the best managed shark fisheries in the world”. Could you provide a link to where that was actually said?

    • Chuck Bangley · May 7, 2013

      Thanks for the comment Jupp. The point I was trying to make is not “all sharks are doing fine, we can go home now.” It’s that there are causes for optimism under the management plans that we have right now. Due to the slow growth and low fecundity of most coastal sharks, these little successes have been decades in the making, long before anyone was even proposing fin bans. “Best-managed shark fishery in the world” is a low bar, but still something US fisheries managers can hang their hat on because at least they’ve been trying. They’ve been trying because shark conservationists keep bothering them into taking action, and now we have some positive momentum. We’ve still got a long way to go (those populations are “rebuilding,” not “rebuilt”), so no, I don’t wonder why we (yes, even me) are all still working in shark protection.

      That said, I disagree that domestic fin bans are a good use of our conservation time and effort. The 36 million pounds of shark the US exports are 36 million pounds worth of sharks that were landed with fins attached, identified to species, had their populations monitored using actual scientific methods, and didn’t include threatened species like great white, sand tiger, or dusky sharks. Domestic fin bans reduce domestic trade, which not only makes US fin consumers have a harder time getting US-caught shark, but also fewer of our decently-managed sharks get out to the international market. Those 36 million pounds of shark will instead be sourced from countries that don’t care about shark conservation nearly as much as we do. Our populations might be fine, but it will come at a cost to shark populations elsewhere in the world.

  16. José Truda Palazzo Jr. · May 7, 2013

    Now, honestly… is there any reason at all to believe that the NMFS bureaucrats are trying to kill the State finning bans out of altruism and concern for the shark populations of other countries? 🙂

    • Andrew David Thaler · May 7, 2013

      Yes, because the people I know who work at NMFS genuinely care about wildlife conservation and, though they may be shackled by an imperfect system, are not the heartless automatons you paint them to be.

      You know what’s really bad for any conservation initiative? Assuming an us-versus-them mentality that demonizes anyone who holds different values than yourself.

  17. Jupp Kerckerinck · May 7, 2013

    To Andrew David Thaler: You are right. The sentence is gone but I declare in lieu of an oath that it was in Chuck’s post and that I did a copy and paste without changing it. This is very strange and looks like somebody wants to embarrass me. This was part of his statement, in the last paragraph: “all shark populations are stabilizing, and all fishermen are participating in the best managed shark fisheries in the world” I’ll see if I can find it in my bookmarks.
    If I don’t get confirmation from Chuck that this sentence was in the last paragraph of his post, I will not longer continue to participate in this discussion. I don’t think it is right to take things out of a post so that somebody who copies it, will be embarrassed. I think I still have the original post somewhere in my bookmarks.

    • Andrew David Thaler · May 7, 2013

      Jupp, it is unfortunate that, in what is otherwise an interesting and productive discussion on a highly emotional issue for many of the commenters, you would chose to make an assumption of bad faith where no evidence exists. Rather than owning up to the fact that you chose to pass off your mischaracterization of Chuck’s statement as a direct quote–a mischaracterization that is not even consistent with Chuck’s body of writing presented throughout this and other blogs–you instead accuse someone of manipulating the text post-facto in order to embarrass you. In addition to being sublimely arrogant, it is also insultingly patronizing. Whether or not you agree with it, Chuck’s argument is well-informed and sound; one does not need to “embarrass” his detractors in order to bolster it.

      At the very minimum, you owe Chuck an apology for your unfounded accusations.

  18. Jupp Kerckerinck · May 7, 2013

    To Chuck Bangley: Thank you Chuck. I feel embarrassed because the sentence I quoted from your post has disappeared and I would like you please to confirm that it was there before. Here it is: “shark populations are stabilizing, and all fishermen are participating in the best managed shark fisheries in the world”. Thank you.

    • Chuck Bangley · May 7, 2013

      Jupp, I can assure you that I have not modified that comment other than to correct a misspelling less than a minute after the original posting (the only reason I’m bringing that up is in the interest of full disclosure). It’s obvious that you and I have very different opinions on the effectiveness of fin bans, but if you’re at a point where you’re reducing this conversation down to “he said this because I saw it,” then I have to wonder if you’re even interested in having this discussion. Give me some credit for having thick enough skin to keep from modifying a comment to “embarrass” one dissenting commenter. Let’s get this thread back on topic.

    • Jupp Kerckerinck · May 7, 2013

      Chuck, thanks for getting back to me. I am very interested in having the discussion but I have not been convinced that the ban on shark fins in several states will really undermine conservation of sharks. I see that some local fishermen will make a little less money, but looking at the situation in the ocean, if we don’t stop overfishing now, we will have nothing left to fish for anymore in years to come. Even the Europeans have finally come up with new regulations that the throwback numbers for large fisheries have to go down from over 50% to 7% and every boat will get cameras installed to regulate this. In my opinion it is not the small fisherman who does the damage, it’s the large fisheries , the factory ships who do it. We just need to find a way so that we and our children can still fish in the future.

  19. David Shiffman · May 7, 2013

    Several people have questioned the National Marine Fisheries Service’s claim that shark fin bans “undermine conservation”. It doesn’t say “undermine conservation”. It says “undermine conservation and management”.

    The quote above says “The Magnuson-Stevens Act defines “conservation and management” as including measures “which are designed to assure that . . . a supply of food and other products may be taken, and that recreational benefits may be obtained, on a continuing basis”

    • Andrew Carter · May 9, 2013

      Right, but that’s dishonest on the part of NMFS (and the drafters of Magnus-Stevenson); statutory definitions are frequently inconsistent with everyday and scientific use, but they shouldn’t be allowed to use a nonstandard definition misleadingly. These are two separable semantic and logical units; you can have conservation without management and you can have management without conservation. Saying fin bans interferes with conservation and management (A-> !(B & C)) is not the same as fin bans interfere with conservation and fin bans interfere with management (A->!B, A->!C), but that’s what NFMS seems to want the reader to think.

    • David Shiffman · May 9, 2013

      I don’t think there’s any intent to deceive. At least as long as I’ve been taking fisheries policy classes I’ve been hearing about “conservation and management” as a single term.

  20. Jupp Kerckerinck · May 8, 2013

    Chuck, thanks for your post. I believe you , of course and I apologize in case you are offended. I don’t know what happened. I did not invent that sentence but I am not going to dwell on it. All the best to you and I hope that whatever we do, it will be to the benefit of the sharks.

    • Chuck Bangley · May 8, 2013

      We can certainly agree on working toward the benefit of sharks. Apology accepted, and thanks for a spirited debate.

  21. Jupp Kerckerinck · May 8, 2013

    Thank you. I think the same way. Let’s see what happens. All the best to you.

  22. José Truda Palazzo Jr. · May 8, 2013

    Dear Andrew, I´m not demonizing anyone in particular – I have just watches (and interacted with) the US government reps for 30+ years in international treaties dealing with marine conservation and fisheries, so my question is a genuine one, based on the real,world events and not the theoretical sustainability of fisheries academics and bureaucrats like to tout. I´ve seen it at work – and I definitely don´t like it.

  23. GD · May 9, 2013

    Without links to the full text of the Magnuson-Stevens Act and the SCA, I find NMFS’ response to be incredibly nebulous. Whether the US market is “negligible” compared to the Asian market seems to me like a moot point. The point is that there IS a market here, and it is detrimental (just ask the IUCN’s report “The Conservation Status of Pelagic Sharks and Rays”). Banning fins in US states may seem like a small step toward reducing consumer demand, but nonetheless it is a step. A series of small steps can make a big difference.

    And the US market is fairly large in the states that have enacted (CA, HI) or are considering enacting (NY) these bans. Let’s not forget that these states are home to major port cities where fins sourced from foreign countries are traded in large quantities. In this context, the question of whether or not US fisheries are well-managed seems irrelevant.

    In any case, although fins-attached regulations do appear to stem the cruelty of shark finning, I still wonder whether they would have any impact whatsoever on the fact that global shark populations are dwindling, particularly porbeagle, tope, thresher, and, of course hammerhead. After all, the intense demand for the fins would still exist. Would the manner in which the sharks are landed really change how many of them are landed annually?

    • David Shiffman · May 9, 2013

      “Would the manner in which the sharks are landed really change how many of them are landed annually?”

      Generally speaking, no, although some ships can hold more whole sharks than piles of fins. The point isn’t “finning doesn’t happen therefore fishing is sustainable”, the point is “finning doesn’t happen, therefore claims of stopping finning are inaccurate”. What affects how many sharks are landed annually in the U.S. is our system of science-based quotas, which has resulted in many shark populations starting to rebound in the last 10-15 years.

      “And the US market is fairly large…traded in large quantities.”

      They’re not large at all compared to the market in China and Southeast Asia. The whole rest of the world represents between 5 and 10% of the market, and California, Hawaii, and New York are a small percentage of the “rest of the world”.

      “There IS a market here, and it is detrimental (just ask the IUCN’s report “The Conservation Status of Pelagic Sharks and Rays”).

      That report unequivocally does NOT say that the U.S. market is detrimental.

      “global shark populations are dwindling, particularly porbeagle, tope, thresher, and, of course hammerhead”

      A part of science-based management is reducing fishing pressure on particularly threatened species. The U.S. does that very well for the most part.

    • GD · May 15, 2013


      First I’d like to address the IUCN report. The report quite clearly states that “Demand for shark fins is now acknowledged to be a driver of mortality in both directed and bycatch shark fisheries (Clarke et al. 2007, Lack and Sant 2008).” Therefore the report can be neither quoted as saying that the US market is detrimental nor that the US market is not detrimental. The implication is that ALL markets are detrimental. What part of the report are you looking at? Also, your wording troubles me. How can a report unequivocally NOT say something? Unless, that is, you meant that the report “unequivocally says that the US market is NOT detrimental,” but I don’t think you’d be that sloppy with your language. A lack of statement cannot be considered unequivocal. I find something a bit fishy (no pun intended) with the way you phrased that sentence. I would also like to see your citations from that particular report which, you claim, exempt the United States market from culpability.

      With that statement about demand for fins being a driver of mortality in mind, let’s drop the whole problem of finning from the discussion altogether, which is what I originally wanted to do. You yourself just acknowledged that the manner in which the sharks are landed will not change how many of them are landed annually around the world, which at this point is over 70 million. Since it is the demand for fins rather than the manner of taking sharks that has been proven to be a driver of mortality, who gives a damn how they are landed if we’re talking about populations rather than finning itself?

      Which brings me to my next point. It was very nice of you to condense two lengthy sentences of mine into “And the US market is fairly large…traded in large quantities.” Because I made other salient points in between those two clauses, it would appear that you have committed fallacy of accent. What you very conveniently left out is that the US market is very large in the states that have enacted or are considering enacting shark fin bans. This means states with port cities and large Asian communities such as New York, California and Hawaii. It does not mean, say, Utah or Ohio. Because cities such as Los Angeles and New York are major international trade centers, we have very little data on how many of the fins shipped to these cities on a regular basis are from US waters and how many are imported from countries with poor management policies. In fact, my original sentence said that “…these states are home to port cities where FINS FROM FOREIGN COUNTRIES are traded in large quantities. In that context, the question of whether or not US fisheries are well-managed seems irrelevant.” And it is. How can we tell how many of the fins sold in the US are from domestic fisheries and how many are not? I’m repeating this because you seem to ignore half of my sentences.

      And that brings me to the final part of your rebuttal. “A part of science-based mangement is reducing pressure on threatened species. The US does that very well for the most part.” I said that GLOBAL shark populations are dwindling, not US populations. Again, if there is no way to tell which fins are domestically sourced and which fins come from poorly managed waters, who cares what the US does well? The end point of the product in no way determines the source of the product. This is a straw man, David.

      Look, this is like the situation that exists with ivory. In countries where trade in ivory is still legal, such as China, it is impossible to tell which items are made from ivory that comes from countries where ivory was stockpiled prior to the 1989 ban and which items are made from the tusks of recently poached animals. The point is to drive down demand (I refer you once again to the citations from Clarke, who has studied the subject of fin trading repeatedly, and to Lack and Sant).

    • GD · May 15, 2013

      As a postscript to my earlier reply, I would like to refer you to section 5.3 of the IUCN report, “Use and Trade,” which demonstrates just how complicated it can be to determine the sourcing of shark fins. First of all, the report states that the top five exporters of shark fin products by weight as of 2005 were Taiwan, Spain, Japan, Panama and Costa Rica (readers of this blog are probably aware that Costa Rica has recently passed much stricter legislation to regulate shark fisheries). The United States is not listed as a major exporter; therefore, it may be that our directed shark fisheries, well-managed though they may be, do not play a significant role in the market. This would appear to reinforce my point that although the fins may be traded in the United States, they do not necessarily come from the United States.

      Making matters more complex is the fact that “During the past two decades, at least half of the shark fins traded by 86 countries [I would italicize that if I could] passed through the Hong Kong market.” The report further adds that in a comprehensive study of the Hong Kong market Clarke was unable to determine the origin or even the species of over half the fins. What this appears to tell us is that
      a) the US is probably importing at least some fins from Hong Kong;
      b) because we have no idea where those fins came from, we cannot say with certainty that they came from well-controlled US fisheries;
      and c) we cannot say with certainty that our own directed fisheries (never mind bycatch fisheries) are contributing to the sales of shark fins in the states that wish to ban those sales.

      In short, my own recommendation is “in dubio abstinii.”

    • David Shiffman · May 16, 2013

      The report doesn’t exclude the U.S. from culpability. Someone incorrectly claimed that it specifically blamed the U.S. markets, and I pointed out that that was incorrect, that it does not say that the U.S. markets are particularly harmful. The report, however, does note that the U.S. makes up a small percentage of the market and that U.S. fisheries are particularly well managed.

    • GD · May 16, 2013

      David, I stated that the US market is detrimental, not specifically blamed. If the report states that demand for fins in general is a driver of mortality, then ALL markets should be presumed detrimental. Furthermore, I would like to see references to the particular pages that you are looking at.

      In any case, the question of whether or not US fisheries are well-managed is irrelevant to the fact that some pelagic species regularly migrate outside US waters. Also, you seem to have ignored my point that just because US shark fisheries may be well-managed doesn’t mean that fins on the market come from those fisheries (see the reference in my earlier comment to Clarke’s Hong Kong study, in which nobody could tell where over 50% of the fins came from).

      Is there a reason why you can’t seem to quote me correctly in your rebuttals?

  24. Alex · May 15, 2013

    Hi David,

    Congratulations on your fascinating blog.

    Daring to dream, a new petition was started here in Hong Kong last week, calling on the Hong Kong Government to pass a ban on the sale and possession of shark fin in Hong Kong.


    Bans in the US and elsewhere aside, many of us are sick to death of having to look at shark fins, which are thrust in our faces whichever way we look at every restaurant, on every street corner, every day, here in Hong Kong.

    It’s not sustainable and no amount of science will ever convince me of that. You can’t ‘manage’ the problem, as IUU fishing is out of control, it’s as simple as that. I’ve seen it first hand on many trips around the Pacific, and it all ends up back here and quite frankly, we’re sick of it.

    There will be a large scale celebrity campaign backed by marine conservation NGOs here kicking off in Hong Kong and China in Q3 and Q4 this year, which may just provide us with the tipping point we need.

    The Government are very susceptible to public backlash here, and so I don’t think we are as far away from a total ban in Hong Kong as some us think.

    I hope you can get behind our efforts.

    Kind regards,

  25. Alex · May 15, 2013

    Thanks David.
    A true champion of free speech that you are! Love it…
    All best,

  26. Jupp Kerckerinck · May 15, 2013

    Hi Alex,
    Thank you for your comment. Please let me know about the Q4 campaign. I might even come and join you.
    I am a great believer in the ban on possession and trade of shark fins. Even in the US I believe that it will have quite an impact. The bill just passed the Senate and the Assembly in New York and we are all very happy about it. If shark fins are really big business for fishermen in the US, then the ban is important, because we must keep the sharks alive. If they are not big business, then nobody is losing much income. That is my opinion and I am certain that I am not alone with it.
    Please keep me posted,

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