Federal Court Upholds CA Ban on Shark Fin Trade

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Oceana Applauds Decision to Dismiss Lawsuit Opposing Law

Amelia Vorpahl ( 202-467-1968, 202-476-0632 (cell))

SAN FRANCISCO Yesterday, a United States district court upheld the California shark fin ban, a state law forbidding the possession, sale, trade or distribution of shark fins.* Oceana commends the court’s decision and believes it will further the protection of sharks and help reduce the demand for shark fins worldwide.

California’s 2011 law was challenged by a group of shark fin dealers and retailers who claimed the ban was discriminatory and in violation of federal law. However, the court ruled against all claims in the suit, specifically that the state ban did not violate the Equal Protection or Commerce Clauses, and that the law was not pre-empted by federal fisheries law. The judge also noted that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) had already found the California ban was consistent with federal law last month, in a letter sent to the State of California.

California is home to two of the top 10 cargo ports and to one of the top five cargo airports in the United States, which is why their shark fin ban is incredibly important,” said Oceana campaign director Dominique Cano-Stocco. “Before the ban went into effect, the state had the largest volume of fins imported and exported in the country. By blocking the trade of shark fins, we are achieving critical global shark conservation goals.”

The federal Shark Conservation Act forbids the act of shark finning, but stops short of banning the trade of fins. Once a shark’s fins are removed, however, it is almost impossible to determine whether or not they were obtained legally. By making it illegal to possess and consume fins, however, these state bans address this technicality, while still allowing for legal shark fishing

“Sharks play a critical role in maintaining the health, stability and resilience of marine ecosystems in the face of unprecedented human threats to our oceans,” said Oceana California campaign director Dr. Geoff Shester. “Yesterday’s decision affirmed California’s authority to take a stand for these important apex marine predators by reducing demand for shark fins, paving the way for other states to follow suit.”

It is estimated that about 100 million sharks are killed annually for their fins. Before the first bans went into effect, $1.8 million in shark fins were imported into the U.S., however as a result of the state laws, Oceana estimates that 68 percent of overseas shark fin imports into the U.S. have been blocked.

“Yesterday’s decision sets an important precedent,” Cano-Stocco said. “We strongly encourage NOAA to quickly withdraw pre-emption concerns with the remaining state shark fin bans in Hawaii, Oregon, Illinois, Delaware and New York.” 

* The California Shark Fin Prohibition forbids any person from possessing, selling, trading, or distributing detached shark fins. The law exempts persons who hold a license or permit from the possession restriction, but not the sale or distribution restrictions. Therefore, while properly licensed fishers may possess detached shark fins, they may not place such fins into commerce.

For more information about Oceana’s campaign to protect sharks, please click here.





Oceana is the largest international advocacy group working solely to protect the world’s oceans. Oceana wins policy victories for the oceans using science-based campaigns. Since 2001, we have protected over 1.2 million square miles of ocean and innumerable sea turtles, sharks, dolphins and other sea creatures. More than 600,000 supporters have already joined Oceana. Global in scope, Oceana has offices in North, South and Central America and Europe. To learn more, please visit www.oceana.org.

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