Some Maryland lawmakers concerned about declining numbers of sharks worldwide have introduced legislation to ban trade in the ocean predators' fins, the prized ingredient in a soup that is popular in Chinese cuisine.
Bills introduced Tuesday in both House and Senate would outlaw sale, trade, distribution or even possession of raw, dried or processed shark fins. Violations would be punishable by fines ranging from $5,000 for the first offense up to $50,000 for repeat infractions.
Hawaii, California, Oregon and Washington recently banned the sale of shark fins and related products, and other states are eyeing similar prohibitions, according to Beth Lowell of the conservation group Oceana.
Shark fin soup is considered a delicacy in Chinese culture, and conservationists say its popularity has led to large-scale slaughter of sharks so their fins could be sliced off. Shark finning is illegal in the United States, but fins are being imported from countries where such protections are not in place or enforced.
Of roughly 300 shark species worldwide, 50 are officially listed as vulnerable, endangered or critically endangered, according to Oceana. Shark "finning" is a major threat, conservationists contend, and they hope that by outlawing trade in or possession of the fins they can stop the seagoing slaughter.
There are restaurants in Maryland that serve shark fin soup, according to advocates. One animal-welfare group has a list of 10 Asian eateries in Howard County and the Washington suburbs.
Oceana's Beth Lowell says there's been no dried shark fin shipped into or out of the port of Baltimore, but U.S. Customs data show exports of shark products, mainly dogfish, exported from Washington and Norfolk. But the broader mid-Atlantic region is a net importer of shark products, government data show, with 6155 kilos imported last year, valued at nearly $700,000. Some 800 kilos valued at $70,000 were exported.