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Federal Government Announces Support for State Laws Protecting Sharks

The Humane Society of the United States and Humane Society International applaud decision

Humane Society International

The National Marine Fisheries Service has announced that state laws to combat shark finning are not preempted by federal law, a welcome change in course from its previous position that jeopardized these important state laws to protect shark populations. In publishing an update to its proposed rule, the agency states that legislation in California, Maryland and Washington that prohibits the possession, sale, trade and distribution of shark fins within their jurisdictions are consistent with and not preempted by federal fisheries law.

Wayne Pacelle, president and CEO of the Humane Society of the United States said, “This is an important step toward ensuring both humane treatment and the maintaining of healthy shark populations for generations to come. We applaud the agency for recognizing that these state bans on sale of shark fins do not conflict with the operation of federal fisheries law. When put together, state and federal shark protection laws will save the lives of countless sharks, and make the United States a world leader in shark protection.”

Eight states and three U.S. territories have passed laws backed by The Humane Society of the United States, Humane Society International, and other conservation groups prohibiting the possession, sale, trade and distribution of shark fins within their jurisdictions – a critical consumer and sales complement to the fisheries policies. However, progress made at the state level to combat unsustainable shark finning was placed at risk when NMFS issued a 2013 proposed rule to implement the provisions of the Shark Conservation Act of 2010, and within that rule stated that these state and territorial statues may be preempted by federal law.

The proposed rule has been criticized by a bipartisan group of 62 members of Congress, dozens of state lawmakers as well as California, Maryland and Washington attorneys general and wildlife protection departments. The HSUS, HSI, and others noted that taking such an action to preempt state law was a step back for conservation, arguing that the state and territorial shark fin statutes not only complement federal regulations but strengthen U.S. leadership in global shark conservation. Today, the agency has recognized the merit of this argument and has begun taking the steps necessary to protect shark species worldwide by agreeing that the shark fin bans in Maryland, California and Washington are consistent with federal law.   

This move by the agency should put to rest any further claims that state and territorial shark fin statutes are preempted, including the pending litigation over California’s law.  The HSUS and HSI are urging the agency to take immediate action to announce that remaining state and territorial shark fin statutes are consistent with federal law, and to take the final necessary step of withdrawing the preemption provision from the proposed rule.


  • In January 2011, President Obama signed the Shark Conservation Act to strengthen the federal law against shark finning in U.S. waters and require that sharks be landed with their fins still attached. 
  • State laws prohibiting the sale, trade, and possession of shark fins have been passed in California, Delaware, Hawaii, Illinois, Maryland, New York, Oregon and Washington, and three Pacific territories: American Samoa, the Commonwealth of Northern Mariana Islands and Guam.
  • Experts estimate that between 26 and 73 million sharks are killed every year to supply the global demand for shark fins, and that such unsustainable numbers are contributing to declines in shark populations worldwide.
  • The federal Shark Conservation Act alone is not enough to halt the worldwide trend of unsustainable shark finning. A ban on shark fin products, such as the ones adopted by individual states, is an effective way to eliminate the demand for shark fins in local markets, and to help eradicate shark finning around the world.  

Media Contact:
Kaitlin Sanderson: 301-721-6463; ksanderson@humanesociety.org