US protects sharks

9 February 2011

President Barack Obama signed into force the Shark Conservation Act, which prohibits all shark finning by US vessels and in US waters, two weeks after Congress passed the bill.

Henceforth US vessels must transport and land sharks with their fins attached. The legislation also allows the US to block seafood imports from countries that permit shark finning.

The new law is intended to stop the practice of removing fins from sharks at sea and discarding the fish, alive or dead. Shark meat has little commercial value but the fins are highly prized and high priced in Asian markets. Requiring vessels to retain the fish intact makes fin harvesting less profitable. The new law stops loopholes in previous legislation that required fishers to have on board carcasses that equated to 95 percent of the weight of fins; fishers would keep one huge carcass to offset many more fins.

One exception to the new law exempts the North Carolina dogfishery. The compromise was necessary to gain the agreement of that state’s senator, who previously blocked passage of the legislation. NOAA Fisheries, the government agency responsible for enforcement, hopes that Congress will be able to fix this last gap in the future.

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