Rules on shark fin removal at sea set to be tightened

PORTLAND, Maine – Interstate regulators are deciding whether to tighten the restrictions on the last species of shark that can have its fins removed at sea in the U.S.

Smooth dogfish are the only sharks from which American fishermen can remove fins at sea. Many other sharks can be hunted, but fins can’t be removed until processing on land.

The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission is scheduled to vote later Tuesday on a new rule that would allow fishermen to bring smooth dogfish to land with fins removed, as long as their total retained catch is at least 25 per cent smooth dogfish. Right now, they can bring ashore as many as they choose.

The rule change would better incorporate the Shark Conservation Act of 2010 into management of the dogfish, staff with the fisheries commission says. The dogfish are harvested from Rhode Island to North Carolina, and are among the many shark species that fishermen bring to land in states from Maine to Texas.

Sharks are also hunted for their meat, but their greatest value is in their fins, which are used to make shark fin soup.

“The fins are worth more than the meat,” said Ashton Harp, a fishery management plan co-ordinator with the commission.

One of the reasons smooth dogfish can have fins removed at sea when other sharks can’t is because the dogfish are prone to spoilage, Harp said.

Some environmentalist groups want to shut the U.S. shark fin market down completely, and support legislation pending in Congress that proposes to come close to doing that.

Environmental groups such as Oceana have said allowing legal fin removal bolsters the global shark fin trade, which leads to the practice of “finning,” or cutting the fin off a live shark and dumping the animal back in the water, in other countries. “Finning” is illegal in the U.S.

Oceana has called the new dogfish rules “a step in the right direction” but has also said the changes don’t go far enough.

Mariah Pfleger, an Oceana campaigner, told the commission in a letter that “significant market demand for shark fins often leads to finning.”