Sharks have stood the test of time, swimming in the world’s oceans for more than 400 million years, until now. Sharks are now facing a threat even they cannot fight on their own: humans. The overexploitation of sharks worldwide is compounded by shark finning, a practice where sharks are captured and their fins removed, often while the animal is still alive, and discarding the carcass at sea. This practice is driving the decline of many shark populations. While shark finning is banned in U.S. waters, there are no federal laws regulating the trade, and the cruel practice occurs in waters around the world.

Thankfully for sharks, good news is on the horizon. Over the past couple of years, the trade of shark fins has been fought through state legislation that will protect sharks and our oceans. Maryland is on the verge of becoming the first East Coast state to ban the trade, sale, possession and distribution of shark fins. The bill has already passed through the state House of Delegates and Senate, and now it is up to Gov. Martin O’Malley to finish the job and sign this bill into law.

If the bill becomes law, Maryland would join California, Oregon, Washington, Hawaii and Illinois in the movement to protect valued shark populations from further harm. By lowering the demand for shark fins with regulatory laws, which are a delicacy in Asian cuisine such as shark fin soup, sharks no longer run the risk of exploitation and our oceans gain further protection. A bowl of shark fin soup can cost up to $100, making the fin the most valuable part of the shark and creating an incentive for growth of the trade.

Shark finning harms the health of our oceans in many ways. It is estimated that 26 million to 73 million sharks are killed worldwide every year. This overexploitation has led to a dramatic decrease in shark populations, up to 99 percent in some species during the last decades. As a top predator, sharks are a critical part of the ecosystem and help keep the oceans balanced and healthy. Sharks live long lives, grow and mature slowly and give birth to few young at a time. Shark finning removes sharks from the ocean at an unsustainable rate, as the shark life cycle cannot keep up with increased catch.

Many people are often scared of sharks, but it’s time we start being scared for their well-being. By reducing the demand for shark fins, Maryland can help protect sharks worldwide. Sharks belong in our oceans, not in our soup.

Beth Lowell OceanaBeth Lowell is a campaign director at Oceana, the largest international advocacy group working solely to protect the world’s oceans. To learn more go to oceana.org.

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