October 16, 2023
New shark fin penalty could hit $100,000 per fin
By David Pendered
Dec. 16 – Sharks are soon to be granted major protection by the annual defense bill awaiting President Biden’s signature.
The legislation makes shark fins illegal to buy, sell, transport or possess in the United States. The federal civil penalty for each violation is up to $100,000. The boat used to cut fins off shark can be seized by the government. Each day of a shark-fishing trip can be penalized as a separate incident.
The president is expected to sign the bill despite his reluctance concerning another aspect of the bill, which rescinds the military’s COVID vaccine mandate, according to a report by Reuters.com.
“It’s a great day for sharks,” Beth Lowell, U.S. vice president of Oceana, said in a statement. Oceana is a global non-profit ocean conservation organization that’s been fighting the shark fin trade for years – including in Georgia – in order to protect sharks. Lowell’s comment continued:
- “The worldwide demand for shark fins is driving many shark populations toward extinction, with 73 million sharks killed for their fins every year. This bill will also help to fight illegal, unreported, and unregulated fishing by giving the U.S. more tools to take action against countries that fail to address these devastating and destructive practices in their fleets.”
The shark fin ban awaiting the president’s signature is clear and is located at the top of page 2587 of the Senate amendment to the James M. Inhofe National Defense Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2023. The provision states:
- “Except as provided in paragraph (3), no person shall possess, acquire, receive, transport, offer for sale, sell, or purchase a shark fin.” Exemptions allow fins to be used for research or museum display, for “non-commercial subsistence purposes” under law or treaty, or in cases where a shark fin is destroyed or disposed of immediately after it’s removed from a shark.
The legislation directs enforcement of the penalty provisions to the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act. The penalties stated in this act are clear:
- “The amount of the civil penalty shall not exceed $100,000 for each violation. Each day of a continuing violation shall constitute a separate offense.”
Repeat offenders face penalties of increasing severity:
- “In determining the amount of such penalty, the Secretary shall take into account the nature, circumstances, extent, and gravity of the prohibited acts committed and, with respect to the violator, the degree of culpability, any history of prior offenses, and such other matters as justice may require.”
The process of harvesting shark fins is to catch a shark, haul it aboard a boat, slice off the fins and dump the creature back into the water. The shark’s fin is the coveted piece of the animal because of prices it commands as a delicacy for some Asian dishes.
In Georgia, Oceana may be best known for its efforts to protect the North American right whales, which calve in the winter off the coasts of Georgia and northern Florida. Sharks are on the group’s watch list, as well, and the Port of Savannah in particular because the port has been a significant debarkation point for shark fins, according to a 2017 report by SavannahNow.com.
Oceana researched the export issue Friday and located data on a NOAA page that shows exports from Savannah have declined sharply since 2015:
- 2015: Volume, 11,687 kg; Value, USD, $728,517;
- 2018: Volume, 8,519 kg; Value, USD, $808,114;
- 2020: Volume, 467 kg; Value, USD, $27,437.
Sharks have been hunted to the brink of population collapse, according to published research.
A peer-reviewed article published in 2021 in the science journal Nature reported the abundance of oceanic sharks and rays has declined by 71 percent since 1970. The story reports the decline is due to fishing pressure that must be eased if the species are to rebound:
- “This depletion has increased the global extinction risk to the point at which three-quarters of the species comprising this functionally important assemblage are threatened with extinction. Strict prohibitions and precautionary science-based catch limits are urgently needed to avert population collapse, avoid the disruption of ecological functions and promote species recovery.”