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US moves to ban ‘shark finning’

Although lawmakers and conservationists know shark fishing will continue, they say having to keep the relatively unprofitable body along with the fins will discourage some fishermen. Proponents also say it’s the first step to a full-on ban on fishing the predators.

The regulations also close loopholes in current law, including one that allows boats to carry shark fins, as long as they were not cut off on that particular ship. It would also ban the practice on any kind of boat — current rules only apply to “fishing vessels” in U.S. waters.

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One U.S. boat chartered by a Hong Kong-based company in 2002 evaded fines or legal action after the U.S. Coast Guard found more than 64,000 pounds of only shark fins on the ship. A court ruled that the Shark Finning Prohibition Act only applies to boats equipped with specific fishing supplies.

The practice is known to fetch hundreds of millions in revenue for both fishing boats and restaurants, and used to make delicacies such as shark fin soup, which can fetch upward of $320 per serving in China, according to the New York Times.

Conservationists estimate anywhere from 70 million to 100 million sharks are killed each year for their fins, many of the most valuable types -- hammerhead and oceanic whitetip sharks are moving toward extinction, experts say.

“Cutting off sharks’ fins and tossing their live bodies back into the sea is terribly cruel. It’s also a major factor in the severe decline of sharks worldwide and the associated devastating impact on other species in the ocean ecosystem,” said Wayne Pacelle, president and chief executive of the Humane Society of the United States, in a statement in 2011, after Congress passed the legislation.