The state of New York has followed the lead of California, Illinois, Oregon and Washington, with Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo banning the possession and sale of shark fins. Cuomo signed the legislation, which takes effect in 2014 in an effort to prevent the killing of tens of millions of sharks that are killed for just their fins.
“Every year, an estimated 73 million sharks are killed to supply the growing global demand for their fins,” Governor Cuomo said in a statement. “Not only is the process inhumane, but it also affects the natural balance of the oceanic ecosystem. With this new law, New York will be doing its part to help preserve this important species and maintain a stable environment for them.” The law does allow for the sale of two species of dogfish in the state, which is the most prolific species of shark in the North Atlantic Ocean. Seventy commercial fishers are licensed to take dogfish. They have a daily catch limit of 3,000 pounds per licensee. Most of the dogfish is sent to England where it is used to make fish and chips. The fins of this species are sent to Asia. Shark fins may also be used in the state for educational purposes.
Sharks are an apex species in the world’s oceans and are disappearing at an alarming rate due largely to finning, which is the process of capturing sharks, shearing their fins off and returning the shark to the ocean where they die. China and other Asian countries consider shark fin soup a delicacy, and the rise of the middle classes in China and other so called Tiger economies has led to an increased demand in shark fin soup. It is estimated that fins from 70 million sharks end up in shark fin soup every year, despite the fact that many species of sharks that are killed for their fins have high levels of the cyanobacterial neurotoxin called BMAA.
Shark finning, which violates the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization’s Code of Conduct for Responsible Fisheries, is practiced worldwide, with a large number of the fins coming from sharks caught off the coasts of China and Mexico. The practice has been decried for years by environmental groups such as Sea Shepherd and EnviroWatch, as well as conservationists and scientists who claim that the killing of so many sharks causes huge disruptions in the ecosystems in which the sharks are taken. Some sharks, such as the Basking shark (Cetorhinus maximus), are near extinction, hunted for their huge fins.
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