Merrill Campbell, a commercial fisherman based in Ocean City, said he and his colleagues already abide by both state and federal fishing restrictions. “This is a back-door effort to eliminate commercial fishing. They’re eating legal shark fins in Montgomery County. I guess those rich folks up there think that’s a travesty.”
At least two Maryland establishments, Rockville’s Tysons Buffet & Restaurant and Silver Spring’s Wong Gee Asian Restaurant, sell shark’s fin soup. According to the Animal Welfare Institute, at least nine restaurants offered it in recent years.
Rebecca Regnery, deputy director of wildlife for the Humane Society International, said her group and others are targeting the shark fin trade in states with major ports and with large Asian American populations, not the overall practice of shark fishing. A bill is pending in the New York legislature, she said, and activists are concerned that more shark fins could flow into other states if it passes.
“We think that closing down the big ports and places with large Asian populations will end U.S. involvement in the fin trade, to a large extent,” Regnery said.
Legislators have tried to enact bans in Virginia and Florida but failed largely because of opposition from fishermen. Similar bills are pending in New Jersey and Illinois. Advocates are also eyeing Delaware, Nevada and Texas.
The shark ban lobby represents an eclectic coalition and varies depending on the state: Distance ocean paddler Margo Pellegrino has joined the advocacy group Shark Stewards in New Jersey, while the National Aquarium in Baltimore is one of the major proponents of the Maryland bill.
Peter How, president of the Asian American Restaurant Association, estimated shark’s fin soup constitutes between 2 and 3 percent of his members’ sales.
“Nevertheless, the shark’s fin soup can be replaced by dishes with other ingredients or substitutes out of environmental concern,” How wrote in an e-mail. “It is just a matter of time for a full transition. After all, our culture has been changing along with the history for social needs.”
Robert Hueter, who directs the Mote Marine Laboratory’s Center for Shark Research, said people need to keep in mind that banning U.S. fin imports will not address all the threats sharks face, especially since the bulk of the demand is in Asia.
“In and of itself, shark’s fin soup is not the enemy,” Hueter said. “If we could wave a wand tomorrow and end the fin trade, it would reduce the worldwide shark mortality. The more important question is, would it reduce it enough?”
While it remains unclear whether Maryland’s proposal will become law, the flurry of activity may prompt federal lawmakers to take action.
“The wildlife trade is a place where national leadership matters,” said Monterey Bay Aquarium Vice President Michael Sutton, whose group co-sponsored the California shark fin ban.
Rep. Sam Farr (D-Calif.), who also backed the state ban, said the movement reflects a growing awareness of the role sharks play in the ocean.
“This is a new frontier, the ocean,” said Farr, adding that he’s been impressed that some of his own constituents who go surfing off the central California coast back shark conservation even though they might encounter a lethal great white while at sea. “They’d rather bear that risk than have the ocean depleted of animals that rightfully belong there.”