Finning -- slicing off a shark's fins and dumping the animal overboard to drown or bleed to death-has been reduced in many areas of the world. The public has turned against finning, a practice that allows fishermen to fit more of the valuable fins on their boats, and many countries and regions, from the U.S. to Europe, have required that sharks be brought to port with fins attached.
More sharks also have international trade protections now, including the great white. Two recent studies show that great white populations are increasing off U.S. coasts. And 10 countries have set up shark sanctuaries where commercial shark fishing is banned, creating 5 million square miles of ocean as safe havens for sharks.
Of course, we have a long way to go. The sheer number of sharks taken from the ocean is threatening the health of marine ecosystems; because sharks are slow-growing, late to mature, and bear few young, they cannot quickly replenish their populations and fulfill their vital role at the top of food webs. And while finning has been reduced, some fishermen are now skirting the requirement that sharks be brought to port with fins attached by "spining": They leave fins attached to the spine but strip off all the meat and dump it overboard, still making room on board for more sharks.
Meanwhile in the United States, which took a leadership role in banning finning, 11 forward-thinking states and territories, including New York, Illinois, California, and Guam, have gone even further and banned the sale and trade of shark products. Yet these states and territories are fighting to keep their regulations, because the federal government says they interfere with U.S. fishing laws. That stance is a step backward for shark conservation.
Saving sharks is a battle that will last for many years. This Aug. 29, as I remember those bloody and terrifying moments on the beach, I will not look back with horror and sadness, but rather look forward with a sense of hope. As we continue to achieve better protections for sharks, those will be anniversaries worth celebrating.
Debbie Salamone is a communications officer for The Pew Charitable Trusts and organizer of Shark Attack Survivors for Shark Conservation.