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The U.S. is banning the sale of shark fins. Here's why.

The U.S. is set to ban the buying and selling of shark fins, a lucrative ingredient prized in some cuisines but that is tied to a practice condemned by wildlife advocates as cruel and unethical.

The Senate on Thursday approved the provision, called the Shark Fin Sales Elimination Act, which was inserted into an annual military policy bill that is heading to President Joe Biden for his signature. The Shark Fin Sales Elimination Act represents a multiyear effort by lawmakers, under pressure from animal-rights and ecological organizations such as the Animal Welfare Institute and Oceana, to ban the trade of shark fins. 

Shark fins are the main ingredient in shark fin soup, a delicacy in some Asian cultures because of its perception as a luxury food and status symbol. Because it is so prized, a pound of shark fins can sell for hundreds of dollars, which makes it one of the most expensive types of seafood by weight.

But gathering shark fins has long been criticized by animal-rights because fishers slice the fins off sharks, then dump the mutilated animals back into the ocean, where the they are unable to survive.

It's unknown how many shark fins are gathered each year, but rights group Animal Wellness Action said it's believed to impact as many as 70 million sharks each year. Several states already ban the sale of shark fins. 

"Shark finning conjures up cruelty and wanton destruction of the medieval era," said Wayne Pacelle, president of Animal Wellness Action, in a statement. "But it's more of a modern evil, and the United States has determined this trade is no longer legal in our nation."

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However, some critics of the bill contend it won't stop fishing crews from catching sharks. One commercial fisherman told The Washington Post that a New Jersey ban on shark fin sales meant that he simply cuts off fins and throws them away, while selling the rest of the shark. 

The ban is the "poster child of people doing something to make themselves feel good and think that they're going to save the species," Kevin Wark, who catches shark and monkfish from his base in Barnegat Light, N.J., told the Post. "It just creates a system of waste."

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