“This is everyone’s problem,” said Maryland Del. Eric Luedtke (D-Montgomery), who wrote the House bill partly out of his concern for the Chesapeake Bay. He noted that the number of large sharks off the East Coast has declined by 90 percent compared with historic levels, which led to an explosion in the Bay’s cownose ray population, and that in turn wiped out some oyster beds. “The reality is sharks don’t recognize state boundaries; they don’t recognize international boundaries. What’s bad for oceans elsewhere is bad for oceans here.”
But some Asian American businesses that serve shark’s fin soup, as well as fishing operators who catch sharks legally, oppose the bans, which went into effect in Hawaii in 2010 and in California, Washington and Oregon last year after receiving wide bipartisan support.
A group representing Asian American shark fin dealers, restaurateurs and grocers will argue in the California Superior Court in San Francisco next month that the ban is unconstitutional because the federal government has ultimate authority over interstate commerce and the state is not compensating them for the economic loss.
The fin trade is the top intentional driver of shark deaths worldwide — killing between 26 million and 73 million sharks annually — because their cartilage is used to make noodles for a soup served at weddings and business meals. Millions of sharks also die each year when they are caught accidentally in gear targeting other species.
In many ways, the push to target shark fins is modeled on the successful effort to outlaw raw ivory imports into the United States in 1989, a year ahead of a global ban on African elephant ivory. In both cases, according to Beth Lowell, campaign director at the international group Oceana, “It’s the product which is driving the unsustainable trade of a species. If we can impact the trade of the product, we can have a difference outside the U.S. as well.”
Although the United States was a major importer of elephant ivory, it accounts for less than 1 percent of the global shark fin trade.
Maryland’s secretary of natural resources, John R. Griffin, has joined a group of Ocean City business groups — including fishing operations, restaurants and hotels — in opposing the Maryland measure out of concern that it will restrict the local shark catch. The bill passed the Senate 42-2 last week and will have a hearing in the House on Wednesday. If it doesn’t pass before the chamber adjourns on April 9, it would have to be reintroduced next year.