Many people think of sharks as frightening, sharp-toothed predators, far from being in need of our protection. In fact, people are more inclined to believe that we humans need protecting from these creatures. This couldn't be farther from the truth: shark populations worldwide are in danger of collapse due to fishing pressures stimulated by the global demand for shark fin soup.
Every year, fins from tens of millions of sharks are used for this traditional, non-nutritional meal. Many species have been depleted nearly to the brink of extinction. As predators at or near the top of marine food webs, sharks help maintain the balance of marine life in our oceans.
Shark populations must be protected from the practice of overfishing. The National Aquarium and its partners, including the National Wildlife Federation and Oceana, are advocating on behalf of legislation that will close loopholes in current legislation that bans shark finning. We welcome your support!
Why Sharks Need Our Help
Unlike many fish species, sharks are slow to mature and have very few offspring, making them vulnerable to overexploitation. The sandbar and sand tiger sharks are two species in our mid-Atlantic waters that have faced great fishing pressure.
The sandbar shark, which utilizes Delaware Bay as a pupping ground, can take up to 14 years to mature, has a gestation of 11–12 months, and gives birth to 6–10 pups. The females breed only every other year. These young sandbar sharks are closely tied to the health of the marine ecosystem.
Research shows that the massive depletion of sharks has cascading effects throughout the ocean’s ecosystems. In Maryland, the depletion of sharks has caused an increase in cownose rays in the Chesapeake Bay, which threaten the oyster industry.
In the 30 years the National Aquarium, Baltimore, has been open, sharks have gone from a commercial fishery the federal government declared underutilized to the brink of extinction. In that time, hammerhead shark populations in the Atlantic have decreased by nearly 93%. Since 1986, all recorded shark populations in the northwestern Atlantic, with the exception of mako sharks, have declined by more than 50%.
Scientists warn that continual overfishing of sharks has decimated the population, which continues to dwindle and cannot sustain the current rates. The International Union for Conservation of Nature Red List of Threatened Species estimates that 30% of open ocean sharks are threatened with extinction.
What We Can Do
Recently, the National Aquarium took a stand to support the 2010 Shark Conservation Act, but we need to do more. Current federal and Maryland laws banning shark finning control shark handling practices, but do not restrict the number of sharks killed just for their fins, or the substantial market for shark fins that creates economic incentives to overfish sharks for their fins.
One of the most effective ways to protect sharks is to eliminate the market for fins by prohibiting their sale. California, Hawaii, Oregon, and Washington have all banned the possession, sale, trade, and distribution of shark fins, and now it’s our opportunity to lead.
With our support, the Maryland Legislature has introduced bills (Senate Bill 465 and House Bill 393) that would ban the possession or distribution of shark fins in the state. This legislation will establish Maryland as the first state on the East Coast ensuring we are not contributing to the supply and demand of shark fins.
The National Aquarium’s shark expert, Andy Dehart, will be testifying at both hearings in February, and the Aquarium’s Director of Conservation Laura Bankey and Director of Government Affairs Mark Yost are working closely with our partners to support the legislation as it moves through legislative channels.
What You Can Do
Let your state representatives know you care about sharks, and all the species in the marine ecosystem that depend on them! Our partners at Oceana have initiated an online advocacy campaign to support the shark fin ban in Maryland. Sign our letter today, and help save the sharks!