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Shark Conservation Act

Sharks are among the ocean's top predators and vital to the natural balance of marine ecosystems. They are also a valuable recreational species and food source. To help protect these important marine species, the United States has some of the strongest shark management measures worldwide. Under the authority of the Magnuson-Stevens Fishery Conservation and Management Act (Magnuson-Stevens Act), sharks in U.S. federal waters are managed under fishery management plans.

Shark finning—a process of removing shark fins at sea and discarding the rest of the shark—has been prohibited in the United States by federal law since 2000. The Shark Finning Prohibition Act of 2000 amended the Magnuson-Stevens Act to prohibit any person under U.S. jurisdiction from engaging in the finning of sharks, possessing shark fins aboard a fishing vessel without the corresponding carcass, and landing shark fins without the corresponding carcass.

On January 4, 2011, the Shark Conservation Act of 2010 was signed into law, amending the High Seas Driftnet Fishing Moratorium Protection Act and the Magnuson-Stevens Act. The Shark Conservation Act required that all sharks in the United States, with one exception, be brought to shore with their fins naturally attached.

In January 2013, NOAA Fisheries finalized a rule implementing the international provisions of the Shark Conservation Act. The Shark Conservation Act also includes a “savings clause” for individuals engaged in commercial fishing for smooth dogfish, and NOAA Fisheries finalized a separate rule to address that issue in November 2015. 

In May 2013, NOAA Fisheries also proposed a rule to implement the domestic provisions of the Shark Conservation Act that prohibit any person from removing shark fins at sea or possessing, transferring, or landing shark fins unless they are naturally attached to the corresponding carcass. This rule was recently finalized and brings U.S. domestic shark fisheries into compliance with the requirements of the Shark Conservation Act of 2010.

Shark Conservation Act – Final Rule

The final rule allows for sustainably managed shark fisheries while eliminating the harmful practice of finning.

While we worked on the proposed rule, several states passed shark fin legislation that, in some cases, prohibited the retention of shark fins completely (even if they were legally landed under the requirements of the Shark Conservation Act). As a result, this state legislation appeared to be in conflict with the Magnuson-Stevens Act. This conflict presented the potential for the preemption of state laws, and our proposed rule included language about this possibility. NOAA Fisheries felt that it was important to be transparent and upfront about these potential conflicts in the proposed rule. At the time, we also committed to engaging with each state with shark fin laws to understand their laws and determine whether there was a conflict with the Magnuson-Stevens Act.

We received over 180,000 public comments on the proposed rule, the majority of which expressed concern about the preemption language in the preamble and regulatory text. Of the 13 states and territories with shark fin laws, NOAA Fisheries has completed discussions with 10 of them including: California, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, Delaware, Hawaii, Maryland, Massachusetts, New York, Oregon, Washington, and Guam. Based on those discussions, information provided to NOAA Fisheries, and our exchange of letters with those states and territories, we do not believe preemption will be an issue. As a result of that and based on public comments, we removed preemption language from the final rule. NOAA Fisheries needed to finalize this action to amend the existing shark finning regulations to make them consistent with the Shark Conservation Act.

Learn more about shark conservation and management in the United States.