NRDC Report Uncovers How the U.S. Plays a Role in the Illegal Shark Fin Trade

Large volumes of shark fins transit U.S. borders each year, largely unmonitored and undetected

SAN FRANCISCO  – The United States is a major transit hub for the shark fin trade, with fins moving through U.S. ports on their way to Hong Kong and other destinations, according to a report released today by Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).  Unintentional Partner: How the U.S. Helps the Illegal Shark Fin Market includes new research that finds U.S. agencies have the authority to monitor and inspect shark fin shipments from other countries transiting through American ports, but often allow these shipments to pass through, unmonitored, as they make their way across the globe.

“The U.S. is missing a key opportunity to stop illegal shipments and apply pressure on major traffickers who are trading in these vulnerable species,” said the report’s lead author and NRDC’s director of Pacific Ocean Initiative, Elizabeth Murdock.  “The U.S. has strong laws to protect sharks and fight illegal wildlife trade, and we can and should do a better job of fighting this unsustainable trade on our own turf.”

Shark fin traders, mainly from Mexico and Central and South American countries, are feeding the unsustainable global shark fin market through U.S. ports to get them to Asia and beyond. New research shows that the U.S. is a more heavily trafficked transit hub than expected, which is alarming because overfishing—including illegal and unmanaged shark fishing—is the biggest driver of shark declines around the world.

Under international and domestic laws, the U.S. has the authority to check these in-transit shipments of shark fins—and an obligation to ensure that they are legal, sustainable, and accompanied by the required permits to prove this. But in reality, shark fin shipments that transit through the U.S. are very rarely inspected or documented.

Shark fins remain one the most valuable seafood products in the world. Sharks continue to be targeted, by commercial and artisanal fishers alike, and their fins and meat are traded internationally to feed the still-growing demand for shark products. Today, a quarter of sharks and their relatives are considered at risk of extinction.

For more information, read Elizabeth Murdock’s blog.


The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) is an international nonprofit environmental organization with more than 3 million members and online activists. Since 1970, our lawyers, scientists, and other environmental specialists have worked to protect the world's natural resources, public health, and the environment. NRDC has offices in New York City; Washington, D.C.; Los Angeles; San Francisco; Chicago; Bozeman, Montana; and Beijing. Visit us at and follow us on Twitter @NRDC

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