A ban on the trade of shark fins in Texas goes into effect Friday — just in time for the popular string of Discovery Channel programming known as “Shark Week.”
Buying or selling shark fins will now be a Class B misdemeanor under a bill passed by the Legislature and signed by Gov. Greg Abbott last year. First-time offenses come with a penalty of up to a $2,000 fine or 180 days in jail. Restaurants will no longer be able to serve shark fin soup, a common use of the fins.
The ban is an attempt to fight back against the practice of finning, in which shark fishers cut off the fins of a live shark and throw it back into the sea to die.
Federal law prohibits finning but allows shark fishing under strict limits if the whole animal is brought to land. But finning persists because shark fins are popular in China and can sell for high profits, and catching an entire shark legally requires a license.
Texas accounted for about half of U.S. shark fin exports in 2015, Amanda Keledjian, a marine scientist at Oceana, a D.C.-based ocean conservation organization, previously told the Tribune.
State Rep. Eddie Lucio III, D-Brownsville, sponsored House Bill 1579 during the last Legislative session in an effort to limit the practice in Texas, and in a House committee meeting last year, he emphasized its cruelty.
“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,” Lucio said at the time.
Under the law, people with the proper license may still fish for sharks to sell their meat, but not the fins.
When it passed the law last year, Texas was the 10th state and the first on the Gulf Coast to ban the shark fin trade. Rhode Island recently brought the total to 11 states. Katie Jarl, the Texas state director for the Humane Society of the United States, an animal protection group, said advocacy groups hope other states along the Gulf soon follow Texas’ example.
And, Jarl added, Texas’ ban is well timed.
“When we drafted the legislation we had no idea how well it would coincide with Shark Week, so we really nailed it on that one,” she said, noting that Discovery Channel supported the bill.