Two scientists have argued that the United States' proposed shark fin ban may not have the intended benefits.
saving the sharks
Credit: Stephen Frink / Getty Images

At first blush, a proposed national ban on shark fins in the United States would seem like a good thing for sharks. Shark fishing has been blamed for the decline in a number of shark species, and specifically fins, which typically find their way into shark fin soup, create their own problems. Since the fin is the most valuable part of a shark, some fisherman use a practice called "finning"—already banned in the U.S.—where the fins are removed from the shark (sometimes while still alive) and then the rest of the animal is disposed of. Banning the fins all together sounds like a simple way to end all these issues once and for all. However, in a paper published this month in the journal Marine Policy, marine scientists David Shiffman and Robert Hueter present a different argument: such a ban actually "would undermine sustainable shark fisheries."

According to the office of New Jersey Senator Cory Booker, over 100 scientists have come out in support of the bill he introduced this past March seeking to ban shark fins. But of course, there are two sides to every story, and according to the Associated Press, Shiffman and Hueter essentially state that when it comes to shark fishing, America is one of the few places that actually practices sustainability, so why mess it?

"Removing that from the marketplace removes a template of a well-managed fishery," Shiffman told the AP. "It's much easier for us to say, here's a way you can do this." His paper also suggests that since the U.S. is such a small part of the worldwide shark fin trade, a ban in the U.S. would simply be made up for by more fishing elsewhere.

For the hundreds of active American shark fishers, a ban would essentially put them out of work: Currently, fishermen can legally have the fins of a shark removed back on land during processing. Since the fins account for about 25 percent of the value of a shark, banning them would destroy profitability.

"They want to stop it, just period," one fisherman told the AP. "Forget the fact that we fish sustainably in this country." Oddly enough, for this reason, banning the fins would create more waste, Shiffman and Hueter's paper points out. "Moreover, banning the sale of shark fins would not make it illegal to continue catch and kill sharks in the United States. It would only regulate how the parts of dead sharks can be used," the authors state. "Forcing fishermen to discard fins from sharks caught in sustainably managed fisheries would contribute to wastefulness in fisheries and undermine the 'full use' doctrine that is a component of the UN FAO International Plan of Action for Sharks, without reducing shark mortality."

Instead, Hueter put out his own plan of benefiting both sharks and fisheries. It includes things like strengthening existing penalties against illegal fishing to promote enforcement, reducing trade with countries that don't follow sustainable shark fishing and increasing education about the problems facing shark population.