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Source: Albany Times-Union

Shark-finning ban nears

State law is in response to practice that leads to millions of fish deaths


Posted: July 26, 2013
Originally Published: July 25, 2013

Being eaten by a shark may sit in the back of beachgoers' minds. But the fact is people are more of a threat to the voracious carnivores.

Finning — cutting off sharks' fins and releasing the maimed creatures back into the sea — kills 73 million sharks every year. The bill to ban the practice, rooted in Japanese and Chinese traditions, is on Gov. Andrew Cuomo's desk awaiting his signature.

"Without their fins, sharks are unable to swim, which leads them to slowly suffocate or be eaten to death by other predators," said Adrienne Esposito, executive director of Citizens Campaign for the Environment.

This spring state Legislators passed a bill banning the sale of shark fins.

Environmentalists, animal rights advocates, and lawmakers are hoping Cuomo will sign the measure.

Shark fins are a tasteless and glutinous appendage with no nutritional or medicinal value.

But shark fin soup is a delicacy in Chinese and Japanese culture, commonly served at weddings and other important banquets as a status symbol.

Consumption of fins is also believed to boost sexual potency, enhance skin quality, increase one's "qi," or personal energy force in traditional Chinese philosophy.

Finning has already been banned in U.S. waters and in seven states, but New York remains one of the largest markets for the fins outside of Asia.

"The sale of the fins in many Asian markets, restaurants and catering halls still goes on," said Esposito, noting that the legislation is crafted to close up loopholes. "We are targeting the commercial trade of the fins."

The bill, which targets only finning, doesn't ban recreational or commercial shark fishing, and the fin may used if removed from the shark post-mortem. The commercial sale of fins from smooth and spiny dogfish, which are sharks, is an exception under the new law because of their rapid and sustained mating process.

On Wednesday, shark was selling for $1.99 a pound at the Asian Food Market on Colvin Avenue in Albany. Employees said their store does not sell the fins. A shopper said she had only seen it on menus of fancy Chinese restaurants.

Mari Omiya, who owns Mari's Japanese Restaurant in Schenectady, said she saw canned shark-fin soup in Albany years ago, but it is extremely rare now in the United States.

"This is very, very expensive in Japan," she said.

Finning endangers shark populations and harms local ecosystems by depleting an important predator, Esposito said.

Assemblyman Alan Maisel, a Brooklyn Democrat, the bill's co-sponsor, agreed: "Sharks are an essential component of healthy oceans, and must be protected."