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Shark Conservation in the United States and Abroad

NOAA scientists tag a sandbar shark during a research cruise. Credit: NOAA Teacher at Sea.

Recent Updates

In May 2013, NOAA published a proposed rule to revise existing shark fishing regulations to be consistent with current law. This rule will bring U.S. domestic shark fisheries into compliance with the requirements of the Shark Conservation Act of 2010.  The comment period on the proposed rule closed on July 31, 2013.

NOAA’s proposed rule enables sustainably managed shark fisheries while eliminating the harmful practice of finning. The proposed rule included a statement about preemption of state laws, if those laws were inconsistent with the purpose and objectives of the Magnuson-Stevens Act. We included this language because eleven states and territories have enacted their own shark fin laws, each of which takes a slightly different approach to shark conservation and management. It was important for NOAA to confirm that these state laws did not restrict the possession of shark fins in a way that could create a problem for fishermen fishing legally for sharks in federal waters.

As required under Executive Order 13132, NOAA has been engaging in constructive discussions with these states about how both the state and federal laws may be interpreted to further the purposes of the Magnuson-Stevens Act and the state laws together. Recent letters document NOAA’s view that California, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, Delaware, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, Oregon, and Washington state laws do not conflict with the purpose and objectives of the MSA. NOAA Fisheries continues to engage with other states on this issue.


Leading the Way in Shark Conservation

In the United States, federal law prohibits “shark finning,” a process of removing shark fins at sea and discarding the rest of the shark. This practice has been prohibited by federal law since 2000, but shark conservation was further strengthened in 2010 when Congress passed the Shark Conservation Act. The Shark Conservation Act requires that all sharks in the United States, with one exception, be brought to shore with their fins naturally attached.

In May 2013, NOAA Fisheries published a proposed rule to implement the domestic provisions of the Shark Conservation Act. The proposed rule, which mirrors the language in the Shark Conservation Act, prohibits any person from removing shark fins at sea, possessing shark fins on board a fishing vessel unless they are naturally attached, transferring or receiving shark fins from one vessel to another at sea unless the fins are naturally attached, landing shark fins unless they are naturally attached, landing sharks without their fins naturally attached, or possessing, purchasing, or selling shark fins or shark carcasses taken, transferred, landed, or possessed in violation of the regulations.

The Shark Conservation Act amended the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (MSA). The Magnuson-Stevens Act is the federal law governing the conservation and management of federal fisheries. Along with the suite of conservation and management measures required of all federal fisheries, including shark fisheries, by the Magnuson-Stevens Act, the new additions from the Shark Conservation Act sets the United States apart as a leader in the sustainable management of domestic shark fisheries and the global conservation of sharks. The United States has some of the strongest shark management measures worldwide. In addition to prohibiting shark finning in the United States, we continue to promote our fins naturally attached policy overseas. NOAA Fisheries works within regional fisheries management organizations and other international bodies to get international shark conservation and management measures approved.

2013 was marked by a historic conservation milestone for sharks globally. At the 2013 Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) Conference of the Parties meeting in Bangkok, countries agreed to increase protection for five commercially-exploited species of sharks. NOAA Fisheries played a key role in the development and adoption of these proposals. Read more

Sustainably Managing U.S. Shark Populations

NOAA Fisheries manages the commercial and recreational shark fisheries in the Atlantic Ocean and Gulf of Mexico and works with the regional fishery management councils to conserve and sustainably manage sharks in the Pacific Ocean. By conducting research, assessing stocks, working with U.S. fishermen, and implementing restrictions when necessary, NOAA Fisheries sustainably manages shark populations. For overfished shark stocks, NOAA Fisheries applies management measures to rebuild the stock to a healthy level. Sustainably managed shark fisheries provide opportunities for both commercial and recreational fishermen.

Bull shark swimming.