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House advances shark fin ban amid global effort to curb the trade

The Baltimore Sun

Maryland could outlaw the shark fin trade under a bill that passed the House of Delegates this week.

The fins, the key ingredient in shark fin soup and considered a delicacy in some Chinese cuisines, have undergone global scrutiny because of unsustainable harvesting practices.

In some parts of the world, the fins are sliced off the sharks and the wounded animals are left to swim in the sea.

The ban, which now heads to the Senate, would outlaw the importation or possession of shark fins.

The animals are slow growing and slow to reproduce, leading the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species earlier this month to move toward curbing global trade on shark fins.

In July, the Chinese government decided to take shark fin soup off the menu at state dinners, according to media reports. Some Chinese celebrities have reportedly backed efforts to ban the fin trade elsewhere, including NBA star Yao Ming, action-movie star Jackie Chan and filmmaker Ang Lee.

Canada outlawed finning in its waters the 1990's and is now considering a ban on imported fins. Congress passed the Shark Finning Act of 2000 to ban the finning of sharks in American waters. Other federal laws have been passed to strengthen the ban.

States, meanwhile, have been adopting measures to ban the possession or sale of shark fins. Hawaii, New York, Washington, and Illinois have such bans, which is similar to the measure that passed the House Monday by a 119-15 vote.

The Maryland law makes exceptions for museums and for the state's shark fisherman, who are allowed to continue landing whole sharks. 

In 2011, 15 fishermen reported landing sharks in Maryland last year, amounting to a harvest worth $653,000, according to a state analysis.

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