Senators want stronger anti-shark 'finning' rule

As many as 73 million sharks are killed each year in "finning" operations, during which the sharks are captured, their fins are cut off and they are thrown back into the water.

Without their fins the sharks are helpless and unable to swim. They often sink to the bottom and die.

The fins are used to make a soup that is tasteless but historically considered a delicacy in Chinese cuisine.

NOAA proposed in May to ban the practice and close loopholes in current law, such as a provision that allows boats to carry shark fins as long as they were cut off elsewhere.

However, language in the rule might also supersede laws in states like Hawaii, Maryland and Washington, among others, that are already more aggressive.

“Within the proposed rule, [the National Marine Fisheries Service] indicates that state and territorial statutes that are designed to combat finning by prohibiting the possession, sale, and distribution of detached shark fins after the point of landing could be preempted. The preemption provision in the draft rule would take away a much-needed tool to protect and recover dwindling shark populations,” the senators wrote.

The 10 senators on the letter were Sens. Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), Mark Begich (D-Alaska) and Ben Cardin (D-Md.).