07/02/2012 12:30 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Keeping Fins Where They Belong: On Sharks in the Wild

Five down and 45 to go! What's that, you ask? Well, it's the number of states left in the U.S. that can step-up and stop the enormously cruel and wasteful practice of shark-finning. Joining the ranks of California, Hawaii, Oregon and Washington, on Sunday Governor Pat Quinn demonstrated Illinois' dedication to conserving the apex predators of our oceans by signing Illinois House Bill 4119 into law. This law not only represents a groundswell of public support to protect sharks but is also a significant lever to help reduce pressure on our rapidly declining shark populations. "Sharks have roamed our oceans for millions of years, but the practice of harvesting them for their fins poses a serious threat to the species," Governor Quinn said. "By limiting the market for shark fins, we can help sustain and grow shark populations around the world."

Now the fifth state in America (and the second largest) to ban the sale, trade, possession and distribution of shark fins, Illinois was home to a big market for shark fins. As I've previously written, every year up to 73 million sharks are killed, tens of millions for their fins alone. The fins are used for shark fin soup (a luxury dish sometimes served at Chinese weddings and banquets). The unfortunate increase in consumer demand for shark fins is a major contributing factor in the decimation of shark populations worldwide. Which is why NRDC built a coalition with the help of HSUS and COARE to advocate for shark protection and raise awareness across the nation.

While sharks are also often caught accidentally (called by-catch), the demand for shark fins is what drives almost all shark deaths. A global market exists for shark fins, the main ingredient in the so-called shark fin soup. Shark fins can fetch upwards $600 a pound, putting this critical species at the hands of human profit-seeking. As a result of these overfishing & finning pressures, one-third of open ocean sharks are already threatened with extinction.

And because shark meat isn't generally consumed, after their fins are cut off, sharks are usually thrown back into the water. Unable to swim and bleeding to death, they suffer a slow and torturous death. But with the positive momentum in shark conservation emanating from the midwest (as well as along our coasts), there is good reason to believe that we can keep fins where they belong: on the sharks as they swim in the vast expanse of our wild blue oceans.

"Today is a great day not just for sharks and for Illinois; it is a great day for the whole world," shared Christopher Chin, COARE's executive director, who authored the bill. "This new law reflects the importance of our ocean's fragile resources to everyone, including those thousands of miles from the shore."

I couldn't agree more.


Shark photo courtesy of Carla Hanson ©