Shark Fin Soup Remains on the Menu Despite U.S. State Bans

Credit: AWI
Credit: AWI

Published Jul 27, 2019 11:06 PM by The Maritime Executive

The Animal Welfare Institute (AWI) says restaurants across the U.S. are contributing to the rapid global decline in sharks.

According to an online listing of restaurants, maintained by the AWI, nearly 200 restaurants across the country continue to offer shark fin products, including shark fin soup, a traditionally expensive East Asian dish associated with banquets and celebrations. Dozens of these restaurants are violating their state’s prohibition on shark fins and shark fin products. 

California, for instance, leads the nation in the number of restaurants offering shark fin products - 59 were found by AWI in its latest audit - despite a 2013 state law that prohibits the possession, sale, trade or distribution of shark fins. In New York, which passed a similar ban in 2014, 19 restaurants continue to sell the dish.

AWI regularly contacts law enforcement officials in states with shark fin bans to investigate restaurants that violate the law. 

Bills banning the sales of shark fins are pending in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Connecticut and Florida.  

“The United States is a major producer, exporter and trade stop for shark fins,” said Cathy Liss, president of AWI. “Clearly, the existing patchwork of state laws and uneven enforcement have failed to shut down a lucrative billion-dollar industry. When shark fin soup is on the menu, so is animal cruelty.”

Shark finning is the practice of cutting off a shark’s fins - often while the shark is still alive - and throwing the mutilated body in the ocean, where the helplessly immobile shark will suffocate, bleed to death or succumb to an attack by a predator. 

An estimated 73 million sharks are killed annually for their fins alone. While the U.S. prohibits shark finning in federal waters, there is no nationwide ban on the sale of shark fins, fueling the global shark fin trade. 

Sharks are apex predators and crucial to a functioning marine ecosystem, yet a quarter of all shark and ray species are listed as threatened or endangered. Earlier this month, the International Union for Conservation of Nature classified all but one of the 16 warm-water flat shark species as critically endangered, with declines of more than 80 percent over the past 30 to 45 years, primarily due to overfishing and shark finning.

Last month, Canada, the largest importer of shark fins outside of Asia, banned shark fin imports and exports. 

Shark Week starts on July 28.