On June 20th, 2015, Texas Governor Greg Abbott signed into law a ban on the trade of shark fin in the state of Texas. The bill, known as H.B. 1579 and sponsored by Texas House of Representatives Democrat Eddie Lucio III, recognizes all acts “relating to the sale and purchase of shark fins or products derived from shark fins” as a criminal offence. Texas joins California, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Massachusetts, Maryland, New York, Oregon and Washington as a fin-free state, and is the first of the Gulf Coast states to do so. When speaking about the suggested ban earlier this year, Rep. Lucio commented that “shark finning is an inhumane act banned on the federal level, but we have to make sure Texas is not encouraging that illegal act by restricting what can be done with those fins.”
Lucio’s comment refers to the fact that although shark finning itself is banned throughout U.S. waters, there is no federal restriction on the import and export of shark fins from elsewhere. So although the United States does not directly contribute to annual shark-death statistics, shark-finning activities in other countries are perpetuated by the demand for the product from within the U.S. According to international ocean conservation and advocacy group Oceana, Texas became a hub of the American shark-fin trade after bans were implemented in other states, with a staggering 240 percent increase in the state’s trade since 2010. According to Oceana marine scientist Amanda Keledjian, the group calculated that “Texas was responsible for exporting about 50 percent of the remaining shark-fin exports that were coming out of the United States.”
Oceana estimates that between 2011 and 2014, the Texas shark-fin trade accounted for approximately 12.6 tons of dead shark. Every year, more than 800,000 tons of sharks are culled from our oceans, translating to around 100 million individuals — 73 million of which are specifically targeted for their fins. The trade in shark fins is a lucrative, with an annual value of more than $480 million. It exists to support the demand for shark-fin soup, a Chinese delicacy still legally served in many U.S. restaurants. The unsustainable rate at which sharks are being killed to satisfy this demand has contributed to the disappearance of more than 90 percent of sharks from the world’s oceans in the last 100 years. Currently, nearly half of all classified shark species are considered threatened or near threatened with extinction.
Texas’ recent decision to ban the trade of shark fin within state borders is a small but nevertheless important step towards mitigating the damage that humans have already inflicted on the world’s shark populations. Oceana’s vice president for U.S. Oceans Jacqueline Savitz applauds the decision, saying that “Texans should be proud to be part of the growing movement to end the trade of shark fins and to stop the brutal practice of shark finning worldwide… shark finning is an unnecessary, brutal, wasteful practice that must become a thing of the past and Texas has helped to make that happen.” Hopefully, such action will inspire other states and nations to adopt a similar stance, and in so doing, help protect our oceans for the future. The Texas ban goes into effect on July 1st, 2016, after which those caught buying or selling shark fin will face criminal charges.