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October 2022    Download the Entire Issue (PDF) Available to the Public Vol. 48, No. 10   RSS Feed for Undercurrent Issues
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Feds Target Companies Involved in U.S. Shark Fin Trade

from the October, 2022 issue of Undercurrent   Subscribe Now

A complaint filed in July in Miami federal court accused an exporter based in the Florida Keys, Elite Sky International, of falsely labeling 5,666 pounds of China-bound shark fins as live Florida spiny lobsters to ship abroad. Another company, South Florida-based Aifa Seafood, is under criminal investigation for similar violations. Though federal law makes it illegal to cut the fins off sharks and discard their bodies into the ocean, some states allow fin harvesting from dead sharks at a dock, and they end up in American markets and restaurants. In some states, it's legal to import shark fins.

It's not known where Elite Sky obtained its fins. But in the criminal complaint, the company was also accused of sourcing lobster from Nicaragua and Belize that it falsely stated was caught in Florida. The company, affiliated with a Chinese-American seafood exporter based in New York City, was charged with violating the Lacey Act. This century-old statute makes it a crime to submit false paperwork for any wildlife shipped overseas.

It's one of the seafood industry's most gruesome hunts. Every year, the fins of up to 73 million sharks are sliced from the backs of these animals, their bleeding bodies sometimes dumped back into the ocean where they are left to suffocate or die of blood loss. The barbaric practice is driven by China, where shark fin soup is a status symbol for the rich and powerful and fetches high prices. However, some Americans and some American seafood businesses are complicit in the shark fin trade.

According to the Shark Research Institute, researchers at Florida International University studied 9,820 shark fin trimmings from markets in Hong Kong from 2014 to 2018. Using DNA analyses, they determined that fins came from 86 different species, and 61 of them are threatened with extinction. Most of the fins came from the blue shark, Prionace glauca, a species classified as "near threatened" by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), followed by silky sharks, hammerheads, makos, and thresher sharks.

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