New Jersey is now one step away from becoming the latest state to outlaw shark fins — a move conservationists say is crucial to help some shark species from going extinct but others warn will unfairly penalize fishermen in the Garden State.
The Democratic-sponsored measure would prohibit the harvesting, sale, trade, distribution, and possession of shark fins in the state.
It’s now up to Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy to decide whether to it sign it into law after both houses of the Democratic-controlled state Legislature passed the measure.
If he does, New Jersey would become the 13th state to enact such a ban.
Supporters say the goal is to cut down on shark finning, in which fishermen cut off a shark’s fin and dump the animal back into the water while it’s still alive. The shark then dies, often slowly.
According to estimates by Humane Society of the United States, 72 million sharks die each year because of the practice.
The fins are often used for shark fin soup, a delicacy in China and other East Asian countries for hundreds of generations. It’s frequently served at banquets and weddings and has long been seen as a symbol of status.
A few New Jersey restaurants still serve shark fin soup, according to the Animal Welfare Institute.
“Shark finning is an inhumane practice that leads to the animal’s slow, excruciating death,” said state Assemblyman Raj Mukherji, D-Hudson, a sponsor of the bill. “Aside from being downright cruel, shark finning is threatening the very existence of certain species, which ultimately poses a threat to the balance of all marine life.”
Though shark finning has been illegal in U.S. waters since 2000, this legislation would make sure the practice is also barred in New Jersey’s state waters, said Jeff Tittel, director of the New Jersey chapter of environmental group the Sierra Club.
Tittel called the practice “senseless slaughter.”
“No one needs shark fins except the sharks," he said.
The state Senate passed the bill (S2905) by a vote of 33-6 in January, and the state Assembly followed suit on Monday, 54-19, with one abstention. Mostly Republicans voted against the measure.
The Garden State Seafood Association has vehemently opposed the bill. Greg DiDomenico, the group’s executive director, said all it does is hurt “legitimate, hard-working fishermen of the state.”
“Instead of acknowledging the leadership of our commercial industry, which operates a globally recognized sustainable shark fishery, those supporting this legislation will penalize New Jersey fishermen, forcing them to discard a natural resource for no purpose," DiDomencio.
The bill also helps poachers "in underdeveloped and less-regulated nations by removing sustainable harvested fins from the world market,” said Scot Mackey, the group’s legislative agent.
“It will only increase the value of the fins these poachers will continue to harvest, while preventing our well-managed and sustainable shark fisheries from utilizing the whole animal," Mackey said.
The bill would exempt shark fins that are obtained legally and used for scientific and educational purposes. It also allows commercial and recreational fisherman to possess them if they’ve been obtained lawfully and according with their license or permit.
Under the measure, those who violate the ban would face the following penalties:
- A minimum penalty of $5,000 and maximum penalty of $15,000 for a first offense.
- A minimum penalty of $15,000 and maximum penalty of $35,000 for a second offense.
- A minimum penalty of $35,000, maximum penalty of $55,000, and imprisonment for no more than one year, or both, for any subsequent offense.
The money would help fund wildlife conservation.
The U.S. House of Representatives passed a bill last week that would ban the sale of shark fins across the nation. A companion measure, sponsored by New Jersey Democrat Cory Booker, has been introduced in the U.S. Senate.