June 27, 2022



Nearly 400 illegal shark fins found in a Texas restaurant

3 min read

Texas game wardens had developed a lead, and on April 13, they pursued it. Two wardens conducted an inspection of a San Antonio seafood restaurant and found essentially what their research said they would: 381 whole shark fins and an additional 29 pounds of shark fin meat, in a commercial freezer.

Kevin Winters, a game warden for the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, told The Washington Post that most of the fins came from blacktip sharks, which can be found in the Gulf of Mexico. Unlike more than 20 other species that are listed as threatened or endangered, the blacktip is considered abundant, though Oceana, the conservation group, says the shark is “near threatened with extinction due to overfishing and habitat destruction.” The International Union for Conservation of Nature lists blacktips as “vulnerable.”

No arrests have been made in the San Antonio case, Winters said. He declined to name the restaurant or mention the type of cuisine it serves other than “seafood.” According to Oceana, the demand for shark fins is “driven by the market for shark fin soup, a luxury item popular in some Asian cuisines.” The group estimates that the fins from 73 million sharks annually are used in the global trade of the products.

Finning, the act of cutting off a shark’s fins, is illegal in U.S. waters, though the practice is still allowed elsewhere, including China. Hunters typically take only the shark’s fins before dumping the body back into the water, where it will drown, starve or be eaten by other fish. Depending on size, quality, species and the location where they are sold, fins can go for hundreds of dollars on the market. Oceana estimates, for example, that the lower parts of the caudal fin, at the top of a shark’s tail, can fetch more than $300 a kilogram. In Hong Kong, prices can range from $99 to $591 per kilogram, according to one report.

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Even though finning is illegal in the United States, the trade in shark fins is not, which is why 13 states, including Texas, have banned the sale and possession of the products. Because the United States does not have an outright ban on the trade in shark fins, conservationists say, the American market provides an incentive for people to continue to kill sharks in the waters where it is legal. One study indicates that since 1970, global shark and ray populations have decreased by more than 70%, largely because of overfishing.

Conservationists have been lobbying Congress to pass the Shark Fin Sales Elimination Act to close U.S. markets to the global trade in fin products. “The recent San Antonio case demonstrates that while state bans are a step in the right direction, we need a national ban to remove the United States from this devastating trade once and for all,” Whitney Webber, a campaign director for Oceana, said in a statement to The Post.

The San Antonio bust is not the biggest in Winters’s career as a game warden. Two years ago, he and other wardens seized 861 shark fins and other shark fin products from an Asian herbal/medicinal store in Houston. The owners were given probation, Winters said, as part of a pretrial diversion.

Winters, fellow game warden Kathleen Stuman and their “canine partner, Bailey,” took part in the San Antonio bust. The possession of shark fins for the purpose of sale is a Class B misdemeanor in Texas, punishable with up to 180 days in jail and/or a $2,000 fine. Winters said he was not sure whether the restaurant’s owners also took part in illegal finning in U.S. waters off the Gulf of Mexico.

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“There’s always a potential for more shark fins to be located and a possible ring,” Winters said.

Texas game wardens, Winters added, are actively working to stop the trade of shark fins within the state – and to educate the public on the problems with the trade “before it’s too late.”

“This does have a tremendous effect on our ecosystem and our oceans,” Winters said. “It’s definitely a huge problem that we might not see right now, but it may affect us years from now, when maybe even our kids’ kids will be talking about sharks in a book because they’re extinct. We’re trying to see if we can possibly prevent something like this from occurring.”

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