Shark fin bans might not help sharks, scientists say

As lawmakers propose banning the sale of shark fins in the U.S., a pair of scientists is pushing back, saying the effort might actually harm attempts to conserve the marine predators.

Democratic Sen. Cory Booker of New Jersey introduced a bill this year designed to prevent people from possessing or selling shark fins in America, much to the delight of conservation groups such as Oceana. But marine scientists David Shiffman and Robert Hueter said this approach could be wrongheaded.

Shiffman and Hueter authored a study that appears in the November issue of the journal Marine Policy, saying that the U.S. has long been a leader in shark fisheries management and that shutting down the U.S. fin trade entirely would remove a model for sustainability for the rest of the world.

The U.S. also is a minor contributor to the worldwide shark fin trade, and countries with less regulated fisheries would likely step in to fill the void if America left the business altogether, Shiffman said.

“Removing that from the marketplace removes a template of a well-managed fishery,” said Shiffman, a shark researcher with Simon Fraser University in British Columbia. “It’s much easier for us to say, here’s a way you can do this.”

Shark fins are most often used in a soup considered a delicacy in Asia. Shark fins that American fishermen harvest are often shipped to Asia for processing.

Environmentalists and animal advocates have long blamed shark fin soup for the decline of certain shark species. Their criticism of shark fin soup often includes arguments against “finning,” which is a practice that’s illegal in the United States and involves removing the fins from recently caught, often live sharks and discarding the animals.

Nearly a quarter of U.S. states have bans in place on the sale of fins, and sharks were afforded new protections with the Shark Conservation Act of 2010. But the country still has hundreds of shark fishermen, and they are allowed to have the shark’s fins removed…

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