Unintentional Partner: How the United States Helps the Illegal Shark Fin Market

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In recent decades, shark populations have suffered steep declines, due primarily to the lucrative market for shark fins, both legal and illegal.

The United States long has been a leader in shaping global shark conservation policies. Despite the nation’s commitment to protecting shark species, unregulated shark fin shipments frequently pass through U.S. ports, raising questions about whether the nation is facilitating an unsustainable and sometimes illegal trade in shark fins. To uncover the United States’ potential role in helping unrestricted shark fins get to market, NRDC investigated the volume of shark fins transiting U.S. ports en route to global markets, the key countries involved in such transit, the likely legality of the fins transited, and the United States’ authority over the shark fin shipments that cross its national borders.

NRDC found that the United States plays a substantial, unrecognized role in facilitating the unsustainable international shark fin trade—specifically, connecting shark fins from a number of Latin American countries to Hong Kong. The U. S. has the authority to stop illegal shark fin shipments as they pass through U.S. jurisdiction, and must do so. We recommend a suite of policy approaches and strategies to increase monitoring, ensure the sustainability and legality of the international shark fin trade, and help combat the rampant illegal, unregulated, and unreported shark fishing that feeds this trade.

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