Protecting State Shark Fin Bans

The Shark Conservation Act (SCA) of 2010 combats the heinous practice of shark finning—cutting off a shark's fins and discarding the body, often still alive, into the sea—by requiring that sharks in US waters be landed with their fins naturally attached. Eleven US states and territories also have laws that combat shark finning. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) has proposed a rule to implement the SCA. While implementation is needed (and overdue), NMFS has indicated that it will interpret the SCA so as to preempt the more stringent state bans on the sale and possession of shark fins. NMFS claims that these bans interfere with the underlying US law, the Magnuson-Stevens Act (MSA), despite the fact that the state and territorial laws address the shark fin trade only within their own borders, and the MSA expressly states that it is not to be “construed as extending or diminishing the jurisdiction or authority of any State within its boundaries.” AWI has submitted comments generally supporting the NMFS proposed rule but urging that it not be allowed to undermine state efforts to protect sharks. Over 40 members of the House of Representatives have also asked NMFS to “withdraw the preemption provision in the proposed rule.”