United States Gets Caught Acting As A Middleman In Illegal Shark Fin Trade

Sharks play a vital role in marine ecosystems around the globe, but they are vulnerable to extinction because of the illegal shark fin trade. Unfortunately, while the United States is supposed to be a strong force against this illegal trade, it just got busted acting as a middleman.

Millions of sharks have been killed over the years for their fins, which are used for shark fin soup despite the fact that shark fins have no taste, no nutritional value and have no medicinal value either, all while the shark is tossed back into the water alive to die a slow agonizing death. It’s animal cruelty of the highest order. And the United States is supposed to be a strong ally of sharks against the trade. However, a recent study revealed that the United States unintentionally acted as a middleman in the moving of at least 1.29 million shark fins through American ports.

According to the study published by the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC):

1. The United States is an important transit hub for shark fin shipments, with fins passing through U.S. ports via air, sea, and land. Some nations in Central America ship as much as one-third to one-half of all their shark fin exports through U.S. ports.

2. The Latin American nations found to ship shark fins through U.S. ports are major players in the
international shark trade, both as shark-fishing nations and as suppliers of fins to the global market—
including the fins of protected shark species. By allowing these fins to transit its borders, the United States is facilitating unrestricted trade in shark fins from one of the world’s most important shark fin–producing regions.

3. Fins from protected shark species, including those listed under the U.S. Endangered Species Act (ESA) and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES), are likely common in shipments that transit U.S. borders. Many of these shipments may be in violation of U.S. law, international agreements, or both, creating an urgent need for increased monitoring of in-transit shark fin shipments.

4. Despite both U.S. and international laws that regulate the shark fin trade, shark fin shipments that transit this country are very rarely inspected or documented. This failure to monitor in-transit shipments undermines domestic and international commitments to ensure the legality and sustainability of the shark fin trade.

This all means that the United States has serious systemic and legal flaws that are benefiting the black market shark fin trade.

“When we let these shark fin shipments pass through our borders without monitoring them, the U.S. becomes a weak link,” NRDC Pacific Oceans Initiative director and report coauthor Elizabeth Murdock said in a statement.

A major point of contention is how packages containing shark fins are labeled or counted, and not every country has the same uniform rules.

“One of the things is just how it’s coded,” Arizona State University marine conservation biologist David Shiffman says. “In some countries shark is counted as ‘seafood, frozen,’ and in some cases, it’s ‘shark fins,’ and in some cases, it’s shark fins from a particular species. But it’s not consistent from country to country, and it’s not necessarily consistent from year to year, and that makes it really hard to keep track of this stuff.”

So, not only should the United States pass stricter regulations to close loopholes and the like, the international community needs to come together to solve the problem once and for all before it’s too late.

“It’s clear that it’s only going to get solved through international collaboration because some of the countries from which these shipments are coming have a lot less capacity for law enforcement and inspections and monitoring than the United States does,” Murdock said. “We’re confident that this is just the tip of the iceberg. It’s just hard to know how big the iceberg is.”

Sharks are a foundational species. Without them, ecosystems around the world would fall into chaos and collapse, which would have a negative impact on the oceans and on humans, who rely on the oceans for part of our food supply. So the shark fin trade is a threat to our own survival and it must be stopped.

Featured Image: Wikimedia

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Stephen D. Foster Jr.

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