Scientists estimate that shark populations have declined by much as 90 percent for many species, largely thanks to finners, who kill as many as 73 million sharks every year to supply restaurants with shark fin soup. Recently, sharks got some good news: Following campaigning by Oceana and our allies, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) will support shark fin bans in California, Maryland and Washington, keeps countless sharks off the menu in those states.
Though shark finning is no longer allowed in U.S. waters, the trade in shark fins is still legal. To remedy this problem, eight U.S. states and three U.S. territories passed bans outlawing the possession, sale, trade and consumption of shark fins, eliminating a large percentage of the U.S. market. According to data gathered by Oceana, 68 percent of the fins imported into the U.S. went to the eight states that enacted fin bans.
Despite the success of these laws, NOAA took steps to undermine state shark fin bans, during the process of implementing the federal Shark Conservation Act this past May. NOAA challenged the bans by stating that federal law could preempt, or overrule, state shark fin bans, allowing the shark fin trade to continue. The federal government also joined a lawsuit challenging the California state ban.
To fight back, Oceana and its allies launched a public awareness campaign, including running high-visibility Metro ads at stations near NOAA's offices, pressuring them to side with sharks and not shark finners. Oceana also sent a letter to NOAA signed by more than 24,000 activists urging the agency not to jeopardize state bans and their benefits for sharks.
After aggressive campaigning by Oceana, NOAA publicly indicated its satisfaction with the state laws in Washington and Maryland and California, and withdrew its pre-emption challenge in the California lawsuit. We are confident that NOAA will also drop their challenges in the remaining five states, which include Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Oregon and New York.
This victory comes at an important moment, as more states are preparing to join the movement to close down the market for fins. Florida, Massachusetts, Nebraska, New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Texas have all introduced bills to ban fins in their states, and these efforts are critical. Some of the busiest shipping ports and cargo airports are in these states. Closing these ports will significantly reduce the shark fin trade in the U.S.
While we should celebrate NOAA's decision, the fight is not over. We need your support to help more and more states pass shark fin bans. Sharks are fascinating, ancient, and compelling creatures, and as apex predators they play a critical role in keeping ocean ecosystems in balance. Healthy oceans need sharks. And we need your support to keep fins where they belong -- firmly attached to live sharks.