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In Senate, Smooth Sailing for Shark Fin Ban

A measure to ban the trade of shark fins in Texas is headed to Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk after clearing the Texas Senate on Wednesday. The fins are collected by a brutal fishing process: cutting off a live shark's fin and leaving the shark to die.

A bowl of shark fin soup with crab meat at Ho Ho Chinese BBQ in Austin.

A measure to ban the trade of shark fins in Texas is headed to Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk after clearing the Texas Senate on Wednesday.

A Chinese delicacy used in soup, shark fins are harvested in a brutal practice known as finning: catching a shark at sea, cutting off its fin and tossing the live shark back into the water to die. House Bill 1579 by state Rep. Eddie Lucio III, D-Harlingen, aims to cut down on finning by making it illegal to buy or sell shark fins in Texas.

The measure passed the Senate on a 27-4 vote Wednesday, after passing the House last month. It was carried in the upper chamber by Lucio’s father, state Sen. Eddie Lucio Jr., D-Brownsville.

Finning is already prohibited by federal law, but shark fishers do it anyway because they can fit more fins onto the boat than full sharks — and it’s easy enough to not get caught.

Rep. Lucio called shark finning “the worst thing you can do to this animal.”

“The fish essentially drowns because it has no ability to move or swim or do the things it needs to do in order to breathe properly,” he said at a House committee meeting in March.

The Texas shark fin market has rapidly expanded since 2010, when a number of states started cracking down on shark fin traders. Nine states have already banned the trade — California, Oregon, Washington, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, Delaware, New York and Massachusetts — leaving Texas to pick up much of the slack.

“Right now, about half of the remaining shark fin trade in the U.S. comes in and out of Texas,” said Amanda Keledjian, a marine scientist at Oceana, a D.C.-based ocean conservation organization.

Several restaurants in Texas offer shark fin soup for about $10, but most of the fins are shipped to China, where a bowl of soup can sell for more than $100. The fins have no taste or nutritional value.

Lucio’s measure makes it a Class B misdemeanor to buy or sell shark fins, punishable by a maximum $2,000 fine or 180 days in jail for a first offense. Licensed shark fishermen could still catch sharks and sell the meat — just not the fins, which are highly profitable.

If Abbott signs the bill into law, Texas would be the first red state to ban the shark fin trade.

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