skip to main content

H.R. 737: Shark Fin Sales Elimination Act of 2019

Should shark fins, a delicacy in many food items, be banned?

Context

One of the most valuable parts of a shark are its fins, which are often used for foods such as soups. About 73 million shark fins are sold per year, but this comes at a cost. After getting de-finned, the shark is often thrown back into the water to drown or bleed to death.

About 100 million sharks are killed annually, causing a number of shark species to be classified as vulnerable or endangered.

Some policy moves have been made to ban the practice. Since 2000, it’s been illegal to de-fin a shark in U.S. waters. Plus 12 states have banned the sale of shark fins within their borders. But the sale of shark fins isn’t illegal on a federal level.

What the bill does

The Shark Fin Sales Elimination Act would ban the selling or buying of shark fins nationwide, with a fine of up to $100,000. (That’s the maximum fine for each offense in section 307 of the Magnuson Act, the law under which buying or selling shark fins would now be classified.)

The bill would still permit sharks to be caught for either subsistence purposes — for example some indigenous island populations who traditionally eat the animal — or for scientific research.

It was introduced in the House on January 23 as bill number H.R. 737, by Rep. Gregorio Sablan (D-MP0) of the Northern Mariana Islands.

Congress members from such U.S. territories are allowed to introduce and cosponsor legislation, but cannot cast binding votes for laws.

What supporters say

Supporters say the move is environmentally friendly, protects an endangered species, and ends a form of animal cruelty.

“Destroying millions of sharks simply for their fins is a wasteful practice that our indigenous Chamorro and Rafaluwasch cultures in the Marianas would never have allowed,” Rep. Sablan said in a press release. “We would have used as much of the shark as possible for food, tools, and other purposes.”

“The strong, bipartisan support for this legislation sends a clear message that we have to pay more attention to protecting the Earth’s oceans and the life within those oceans,” Rep. Sablan continued. “Banning the sale of shark fins is important, but just a small step towards giving the oceans the full respect they must have in federal law.”

What opponents say

Opponents counter that a shark fin ban could raise its value and would likely prove ineffective in practice.

“It’s expensive and difficult to enforce a ban. Making it illegal to serve shark’s fin will just push the product into the black market, raising its value even higher,” journalist Anna Ling Kaye wrote. “This has been an issue with a number of banned animal products, such as bear gall bladder and rhinoceros horn.”

“Also worrisome is the fact that… bans are often not effective. A telling example is Chicago’s 2006 attempt to ban foie gras (fattened goose liver), which resulted in an explosion of secret restaurants willing to serve the delicacy,” Kaye continued. “The ban was repealed within two years.”

Odds of passage

The bill has attracted 215 bipartisan House cosponsors: 159 Democrats and 56 Republicans. It awaits a potential vote in the House Natural Resources Committee.

While that’s one of the highest cosponsors of any bill in this Congress, it’s actually several dozen less than the previous version introduced last Congress. That iteration attained 262 bipartisan House cosponsors: 177 Democrats and 85 Republicans. Yet that version failed to receive a vote.

Last updated Jul 12, 2019. View all GovTrack summaries.

The summary below was written by the Congressional Research Service, which is a nonpartisan division of the Library of Congress, and was published on Jan 23, 2019.


Shark Fin Sales Elimination Act of 2019

This bill makes it illegal to possess, buy, or sell shark fins or any product containing shark fins, except for certain dogfish fins. A person may possess a shark fin that was lawfully taken consistent with a license or permit under certain circumstances.

Penalties are imposed for violations under the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act.