On April 13, Texas game wardens conducting an inspection of a San Antonio restaurant discovered 381 whole shark fins as well as 29.2 additional pounds of frozen shark fins stored in a commercial freezer. The Texas Parks and Wildlife Department (TPWD) told MySA that the wardens were conducting a routine search of the establishment to determine the source of its seafood. A K-9 unit assisted with the operation.
The wardens posted a photo of the seized fins on Facebook, writing that the “case is pending against the restaurant and all shark fins were seized as evidence.” Because the investigation is ongoing, TPWD did not identify the restaurant or its owners.
The practice of shark finning often entails catching sharks solely for their fins, which can sell for as much as $500 a pound. Because the fin is so much more valuable than the rest of the shark, most shark finners simply toss the finless fish back in the water, where they die slow, painful deaths. According to the Smithsonian Institute, scalloped hammerheads and smooth hammerheads are particularly vulnerable to shark finning, and between 1.3 and 2.7 million of just these two species are killed every year for their fins. Many of those fins end up in shark fin soup, a delicacy in some Asian communities.
In 2016, Texas joined the other 13 states and 3 U.S. territories that prohibit the sale and possession of shark fins. In Texas, buying, selling, or possessing shark fins for the purpose of a sale is a Class B misdemeanor, punishable with up to a $2,000 fine and 180 days and jail. In 2020, Texas Game Wardens brought charges against 10 restaurants and markets in the Dallas and Houston areas for selling shark fins and shark fin products. In 2019, an investigation in the Houston and Seabrook areas turned up more than 30,000 pounds of illegal shark carcasses.
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Although shark finning is illegal in U.S. waters, fins can still be imported and exported in and out of most U.S. states, according to Oceana, a nonprofit dedicated to global ocean conservation. Imported fins often come from foreign fisheries in countries with lax regulations. Prior to the ban, Texas had become something of a hub for imported shark fins, with the state’s fin trade growing by 240 percent between 2010 and 2015.