The practice of shark finning—catch a shark, slice off the fin, dump the still-alive and now-immobilized shark back in the ocean—is common and gruesome. The precious fins are for shark fin soup, of course, the Chinese delicacy that’s become even more prized in recent years as a high-priced status symbol (despite basketball star Yao Ming publicly condemning the soup a couple of years ago). The demand has decimated shark populations (registration required) around the world.
Like many countries, the United States had banned shark finning, but the ban had a loophole. “Right now, fishermen may land piles of fins separate from shark bodies, so long as the fins weigh less than 5% of the total catch,” according to New Scientist. The result, says a marine ecologist at the Scripps Institution of Oceanography, is that the fishermen “keep the fins of every shark they catch and then fill the hold with bodies of smaller sharks. In essence, they are double dipping.” But last week, the U.S. House Committee on Natural Resources stopped the shell game, mandating that all sharks be landed whole. The new rule takes effect in June and expires in 2012, but there’s legislation before Congress that would make it permanent.