Good news, ocean lovers and shark supporters: The U.S. federal government has finally realized it should back down and step away from its ill-conceived plan to overturn the bans on the sale and possession of shark fins that were enacted in the states of California, Maryland and Washington. Thanks to an outpouring of public support, these three states and several others took bold steps to proactively protect sharks, who serve as the "keepers of balance" in our marine ecosystems, and as indicators of the overall health of our oceans.
So last May, when the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) said it was concerned about the state bans, we were all quite puzzled and submitted a letter essentially asking, "What gives?" Don't state fin bans and federal law regulate completely different things?
"It was important for NOAA to confirm that these state laws did not restrict the possession of shark fins in a way that would create problems for fishermen fishing legally for sharks in federal waters," the agency said in a statement that it put up on its website yesterday. The statement spells out in letters to each of the states (California, Maryland and Washington) reasons that it decided against challenging the state bans -- including the fact that the agency said it had received written assurances from the states that the shark fin bans would not interfere with legal fishing for shark meat.
My NRDC colleague Seth Atkinson does an excellent (and exhaustive!) job of unpacking the complexities involved between the state laws and the federal guidance and the issue of preemption. "If you're thinking that this should be a no-brainer, you're not the only one!" Seth exclaims in his blog. "After getting better information NOAA realized these state laws were not causing problems with federal fisheries management. This is a good thing, and better late than never."
We'll take every little bit of good news we can get these days (with the horrific shark culling happening in Western Australia, and the continued savagery in Taiji), but this current victory for these three states may only take us so far, as this is only a limited, fact-based concession rather than a revised legal interpretation from NOAA. However, I have faith that they will continue to let good science and proper ocean stewardship guide their decisions, and/or we can always keep reminding them.