This week, U.S. Senator Maria Cantwell (D-WA) led 9 of her colleagues in urging the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to withdraw a provision in a proposed rule that could undermine tougher state laws fighting illegal shark finning.
Washington state's strong anti-shark finning legislation, which banned the selling, trading and distributing of the fins, could be at risk under the proposed federal rule. In a letter to Dr. Kathryn Sullivan, Acting Administrator at NOAA, the 10 senators cautioned that certain language within a proposed rule would effectively preempt laws passed in states to fight illegal shark finning.
States and territories with such laws are: Washington, Hawaii, California, Oregon, Illinois, Maryland, Delaware, American Samoa, Guam, and the Northern Mariana Islands. The State of New York recently signed a similar ban into law that takes effect July 1, 2014.
"Scientists estimate that between 26 and 73 million sharks are killed every year to supply the global demand for shark fins," the senators wrote in the letter to NOAA. "Within the proposed rule, NMFS indicates that state and territorial statutes that are designed to combat finning by prohibiting the possession, sale, and distribution of detached shark fins after the point of landing could be preempted. The preemption provision in the draft rule would take away a much-needed tool to protect and recover dwindling shark populations."
Shark finning -- the practice of capturing sharks, removing their fins and dumping the rest of the body back into the water -- has led to the sharp decline in many of the world's shark populations. Scientists estimate that the fins from up to 73 million sharks end up in the global fin trade each year.
In the letter sent Monday, the 10 senators also urged the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), tasked with implementing the Shark Conservation Act of 2010, to support states that have already implemented shark conservation measures. If NOAA does not change the proposed rule, these states could lose shark fin bans currently in place.
"Washington state is very concerned about the lack of coordination with the affected states, and hopes that NMFS will withdraw their proposal to preempt state regulations regarding shark finning," said Washington Department of Fish & Wildlife Director Phil Anderson.
"I am extremely pleased that Senator Cantwell is leading the effort in our nation's capital to protect extremely threatened shark species while once again standing up for Washington State," said Washington State Senator Kevin Ranker (D-Orcas Island), who sponsored the state bill. "Two years ago, Washington State led the nation in outlawing the inhumane practice of shark fining. Numerous states have since followed our lead. Senator Cantwell's defense of our great state's laws and leadership is timely and critical."
Cantwell was joined on the letter by Senators Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Brian Schatz (D-HI), Patty Murray (D-WA), Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Mazie Hirono (D-HI), Jeff Merkley (D-OR), Ron Wyden (D-OR), Mark Begich (D-AK) and Ben Cardin (D-MD).
The full text of the letter is below.
Dr. Kathryn Sullivan, Acting Administrator National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration
U.S. Department of Commerce
1401 Constitution Avenue, NW
Washington, DC 20230
Dear Dr. Sullivan,
We are writing to bring your attention to a discrepancy in a National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS) proposed rule regarding the Shark Conservation Act of 2010 [P.L. 111-348, Docket No. 111014628-3329-01]. As you know, the Shark Conservation Act established the United States as a leader in global shark conservation and recovery. In addition, many states and territories have enacted statutes to restrict the possession, trade and sale of shark fins within their jurisdiction. We support NMFS's actions to implement the Shark Conservation Act, but we are very concerned that the state preemption provision undermines valid and essential state and territorial statutes, and disagree with NMFS's interpretation that the state statutes contradicts the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act. We urge you to withdraw the provision in the proposed rule which would preempt state and territorial shark fin trade laws.
Shark finning is a major contributor to the decline in global shark populations. Scientists estimate that between 26 and 73 million sharks are killed every year to supply the global demand for shark fins. Within the proposed rule, NMFS indicates that state and territorial statutes that are designed to combat finning by prohibiting the possession, sale, and distribution of detached shark fins after the point of landing could be preempted. The preemption provision in the draft rule would take away a much-needed tool to protect and recover dwindling shark populations.
The Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act's shark finning provisions, as most recently amended by the Shark Conservation Act of 2010, address the landing and possession of sharks and shark fins at sea and in our federal waters. The Act was not constructed to directly address the trade in detached and processed shark fins within the United States. Addressing this trade is vital, as there is currently no global mechanism in place that requires detailed record keeping on species, origin, and chain of custody for shark fins. It is almost impossible to tell, further down the chain of consumer demand, whether a shark fin or shark fin product came from a federally managed legal fishery, or was imported from a country with little or no regulations on shark finning. While sustainable domestic fisheries, like the spiny dogfish fishery in New England, should continue to be supported by NOAA, states must have the ability to regulate other illegal shark finning activity in their jurisdictions.
There are a growing number of state and territorial statutes that are designed to address shark finning by reducing the demand for shark fin products. These statutes are not a conflict of interest, and are well within the jurisdiction and authority of the States to regulate. Furthermore, the Magnuson-Stevens Act clearly states that ". . . nothing in this Act shall be construed as extending or diminishing the jurisdiction or authority of any State within its boundaries." [16 U.S.C. 1856(a)(1)].
The controversial state preemption provision in this rulemaking has generated significant concerns from stakeholders around the country. Thank you for continuing to engage our states and territories as you move forward with this rule making process. To address the problem of shark-finning head on and continue to work towards conservation of shark species, we must allow state and territorial statutes to complement the federal regulations. To that end, we again urge you to withdraw the preemption provision in the proposed rule. Thank you for attention to this urgent matter. We look forward to your reply.