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Banning shark fins in Pennsylvania

Fresh shark fins drying on sidewalk in Hong Kong.
Contributed photo by Nicholas Wang

By Fritz Mayer
February 5, 2014

HARRISBURG, PA — Democratic Senator Daylin Leach and Republican Richard Alloway have been trying for nearly two years to get legislation passed in Pennsylvania that would ban the possession and sale of shark fins. In December 2013, the two announced that support for their bill is growing, and has picked up the endorsement of the advocacy group Born Free USA.

Leach said, “I am happy to announce that national conservation organization Born Free USA has joined our fight to protect the lives and welfare of sharks, and I thank them for their support,” Leach said. “We’re forming a coalition of advocates statewide committed to protecting these animals, which are so essential to marine life, and we are hopeful that this bill will be signed into law this session.”

In one of the more ironic food trends at the end of the 20th century, the demand for shark fins, and the soup it’s named after began to soar, at least in part due to the growing wealth of the middle class in China. The irony is that most sources who expressed a view on the matter say that shark fins have almost no flavor, and yet sharks are being hunted and killed in such numbers that some species are on the brink of extinction.

There are various pressures on shark populations all over the globe, not just from people who like to eat shark fin soup, but the method by which fins are acquired, called “finning,” is clearly responsible for the demise of many sharks of varying species. Finning is a process by which a shark is captured and all or most of the fish’s fins are removed, and the shark is then dumped back into the ocean. Not being able to move through the water, the shark dies a slow death or is eaten by other ocean dwellers.

Hunters who practice finning do so because throwing the shark back into the ocean leaves more room on the boat to collect more of the fins, which are much more valuable than the rest of the fish. Various sources say that shark fins can sell at prices ranging up to $200 per pound, but those sources also say that a single fin from a prized species can go much higher. Information from the website sharkangels.org says, “A single whale shark pectoral fin can sell for up to $100,000,” although that figure can’t be confirmed elsewhere.

It’s not easy to say just how many sharks are finned each year, but an English researcher came up with the most quoted figures. Shelley Clarke, who according to her website, “received a doctorate in quantitative fisheries science from Imperial College London in 2003 for her ground-breaking study of the shark fin trade,” spent time with a team of researchers investigating the fin trade.